Community first is hallmark of state’s best and brightest

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Published: January 17,2005

Every Top 40 class has its own personality, reflecting its members’ backgrounds, professions, family life and community service. One year, the class makeup was heavily comprised of careerists with financial backgrounds representing accounting, banking and insurance. Another year, several members were in their 20s, and the class displayed an artistic bent.

The Top 40 Under 40 Class of 2005 is perhaps the most diverse, scholarly, accomplished and service-oriented group selected for the Mississippi Business Journal. The youngest member is 30, and the average age is 35. Together, the class has 62 children; three representatives parent five children each.

Camille Young, a lobbyist and the mother of three young children, said being headstrong “works well with members of the Legislature when I’m trying to convince them to vote for the interests of my clients,” she said. “It doesn’t fare very well with a five, three and two year old. There are some times that I just have to throw my hands up and say, ‘I give up.’”

Academically, they hold 38 bachelor’s degrees, 17 master’s degrees, seven law degrees, one medical degree and two doctoral degrees, and have earned countless certificates and professional designations. Two members expect to earn their Ph.D.s within the next couple of years. Ironically, the three members who did not complete college have arguably contributed the most time and/or money to community causes.

Bill Prout graduated from Hattiesburg Preparatory School as salutatorian, star student, student council president, Beta Club president, annual staff editor and Most Likely to Succeed. Instead of completing college, he chose full-time work in the restaurant business. Now the franchise owner of Pizza Hut of Wiggins, Prout has donated nearly $100,000 to various causes, has volunteered his restaurant as a certified and designated “Safe Place” for runaway or abused children, and is involved in more than 30 community organizations.

During the summer of 2002, he directed operations for Christian Services Inc., a non-profit charity in Hattiesburg, and supervised “Abundant Harvest,” a program in which more than 250,000 pounds of food were distributed to 13 charities in a tri-state area.

A plucky group, they have endured career and personal challenges with grace, dignity and poise. When Dana Deaton and her husband, Chris Deaton, were advised two days before Thanksgiving 1998 that their law firm would be dissolved, and they would lose their jobs, clients, business and company vehicles, the parents of five came up with a solution over turkey dinner.

“Over that Thanksgiving weekend, Dana developed a business plan, made necessary contacts to obtain financing for a new business startup, found a location at which to start our business, created an extensive contact list of potential clients and hired our first employee,” said Chris Deaton. “We began business in a building that had no interior walls, operated on folding tables, literally sitting in folding lawn chairs.”

Some members couldn’t fixate on only one career, so they delved into dual and triple professions. Bridgforth Rutledge is an attorney, restaurateur and real estate developer. Major Randy Spears is involved in economic development for the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and handles financial analysis for the Mississippi Air National Guard.

Brian Wehner was perhaps the Top 40’er who took the greatest career detour. Growing up in a blue-collar family in Pittsburgh, he dreamed of being an investment banker. After participating in an international supply chain feasibility study with a large retailer during his senior year at the University of Wisconsin, he changed course and is now highly successful as director of third-party logistics and engineering for Levi Strauss.

Like most successful people, the 2005 group is multi-talented, and would have made their mark no matter which profession was chosen.

Marc Taylor, now a marketing specialist for Baptist Health Systems, was a three-year starter on Delta State University’s baseball team, where he earned All-Conference and All-Regional Tournament honors, and was a member of conference and regional championship squads that made two World Series appearances, including the 1996 team that won 53 games, the second most in school history.

As starting quarterback for Oxford High School, Quentin Whitwell, now a third-generation attorney and a lobbyist, set a record for the highest passing percentage in his senior year, when the 10-3 team won its first ever district championship.

“We are proud of the Top 40 Class of 2005, and of all members of this prestigious program,” said MBJ publisher Joe Jones. “These young people are already leaders of this great state, and will lead Mississippi into the next generation.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com.

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