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OPINION: Be a voice, not an echo

It was hard not to be impressed last week as a group of prominent and accomplished state leaders shared the podium at the Mississippi Economic Council’s classy 60th-anniversary celebration that attracted 2,600 people at the spacious Jackson Convention Complex.

One by one, they strode to the podium and shared remarks that relived events of the past, expressed appreciation for ongoing contributions or stressed visions for what lies ahead.

Men and women like MEC president Blake Wilson, Gov. Haley Barbour through a video, Superintendent of Education Dr. Hank Bounds, ex-MEC chief Bob Pittman, past MEC chairs Jack Reed Sr. and Aubrey Patterson, state Rep. Cecil Brown representing Speaker Billy McCoy, Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, U.S. Congressman Thad Cochran, University of Mississippi chancellor Robert Khayat, 2008 MEC chairman Anthony Topazi, 2009 MEC chairman Mayo Flynt, presiding Supreme Court Justice James Graves and M.B. Swayze Foundation chair Robin Robinson all had thoughtful and dignified messages of importance.

Each was well received. Each drew appropriate applause and recognition.

But it was Reed, the respected businessman, onetime gubernatorial nominee, acknowledged statesman and recently turned author from Tupelo, who seized his moment best, repeating words of wisdom and direction from his days as a volunteer leader of distinction.

He talked about the qualities of leadership over MEC’s strong past, saluting both professionals and volunteers. He used words like integrity, hard work and dedication as trademarks of the organization that was established originally to promote and maintain good government under the American Free Enterprise System.

He mentioned respect, accomplishment and a willingness to deal with tumultuous times of the past. And it was obvious he spoke with a sense of pride, one built in the trenches and lingers still today.

His memory was crisp, his stories were entertaining, his message was on point.

He delivered it simply and direct.

“The most significant fact about the MEC,” he said, “is that it possesses the potential to exert the most powerful influence in the affairs of state of any organization outside the state Legislature – and not as the most powerful political lobby.

“Not by strong arming legislators,” Reed continued. “Not as a special interest group, but as a respected group of business and professional men (and women) addressing themselves to statewide problems and issues of long-range and lasting import, whether they be controversial or not, and by addressing themselves to these issues as objectively as possible.”

He added:

“I personally believe it is our duty to guide and create public opinion, not just reflect it – to be a voice, not an echo.

“And it is far more important that we be right than that we be popular. I do not believe the MEC should ever deliberately seek controversy, but God help us if it sacrifices principle to avoid it.”

Reed originally shared those words as president (now chairman) of the MEC. He offered them again at the group’s 30-year anniversary. And he repeated them, with no change of meaning, last week.

The wise words are full of purpose and meaning, worthy of being printed and hung in the halls not just of the Mississippi Economic Council, but in the board rooms of every chamber of commerce and business-related organization in Mississippi.

Read them again, slowly so you truly understand them. Allow them to sink in. And share them not just with those in leadership positions, but those who fill the membership rolls as well. It is an assemblage of words that can make a positive difference, offering a compass of significant impact.

If they serve as the basis of commitment and action throughout Mississippi, our state, regardless of a troubled economic climate, will prosper.

Contact MBJ editor/publisher Ed Darling at ed.darling@msbusiness.com.

About Ed Darling

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