Friday, Oct. 16, was or is (depending on when you read this) National Boss’s Day, and it caused me to reflect on some bosses I’ve had but especially on the best one.
From the time I was a little boy, I knew that Charlie Faulk was special. Country folk, before the days of paved roads, rural phones, electric lights or indoor plumbing, were mighty proud of one of their own who made something of himself.
Charlie Faulk fit that mold.
He was born near Redbone, Mississippi, to Charles and Alice Hullum Faulk and grew up between Glass and Yokena, went to school at Jeff Davis and Jett, went to church at Wayside, and in 1935 traveled the gravel road that became U.S. Highway 61 to Vicksburg.
He found his niche at the Vicksburg Evening Post and for more than half a century — 55 years, I think — he was on the newsbeat in Vicksburg, much of that time as managing editor. You might say he swapped his overalls for a coat and tie, but Charlie Mitchell said it best: “He never forgot his country connections and those growing up years where he learned the values that guided him through life — hard work, honesty, fairness and compassion. He sometimes reflected on those earlier years with a nostalgic longing for a simpler life, yet he would not have traded his career for any other. At the end of a half a century as a newsman, he reflected that it had been ‘America at the grassroots. The greatest 50 years of all time, in the greatest profession of all time. I call it life in the fast lane. Life on the wide screen. Three dimensional.’”
One of his greatest traits was his love of (and sometimes patience with) people. He respected each as an individual, not a statistic, though those he met ranged from presidents and governors to factory workers and sharecroppers.
He could detect when someone had a spark for journalism. He said the spark had to be there before one could start a fire. He encouraged anyone who had a bent toward a career in the news business.
He gave me my first break in a published piece for which I was paid when I was about 16. It was a story in The Progressive Farmer magazine about the Jeff Davis Community Center. He willingly took time to come to the country and with his bunglesome old Speed Graphic Camera, took photos to illustrate my story — all without charge, I might add.
He started me on my career at the typewriter by encouraging me to go to junior college in Summit where I could work part time at the Sunmit Sun, and “where you’ll learn more in one summer from Mary Cain than you will at Ole Miss all year,” he told me.
Many years later, after I’d held various jobs in the newspaper world, he called and asked if I could run the Saturday night desk that put out the Sunday paper until he could get someone. That was in October 1965.
Ten years later he got someone else for the job when I was offered the post as director and curator of the Old Court House Museum.
I’ll never forget his reaction. I had not sought the job, but it was offered to me, and Charlie said if I was going to leave the Post, he didn’t know of any other place he’d rather see me go than to the museum.
My relationship continued with the newspaper as I wrote a Sunday column, usually about local history, for more than 30 years.
Working for a daily paper means hours both long and sometimes weird, because news doesn’t happen on an 8-to-5 schedule. No newsman wants mistakes in the newspapers — that’s what proofreaders are for — but sometimes bloopers will slip past. If they are not serious, what do you do? You laugh along with your readers.
I remember a few that made Charlie laugh, such as the story of the Italian ambassador who spoke to a local club about “the high cost of’ loving in Rome” — or maybe it wasn’t a mistake!
One booboo was in an obituary for someone being buried at St. Paul Catholic Church. An “r” was printed instead of an “f” in the “Mass or the resurrection.” Faulk said he wasn’t going to miss that funeral, and he was taking his camera.
It was late on a Saturday night when Charlie put a headline on a story saying that Fred Jacoby had died. On Sunday morning at Charlie approached the First Presbyterian Church, who was standing on the porch waving the paper but Fred Jacoby! He had retired, not died. Fortunately, Mr. Jacoby thought it was funny.
Charlie told me once that readers would forgive you for almost anything except getting their names wrong.
Some items in print were funny but not mistakes. He relished the story from Tensas Parish — the headline read “Man Drowns In Waterproof Lake.” (In case you don’t know, Waterproof is the name of a town).
He was also good at his own quips. One Friday afternoon a fellow reporter, Dot Steen, was lecturing me on the benefits of marriage, one being that “Married men live longer,” to which Charlie replied, “No. It just seems that way.”
At his desk he gave needed attention to stories that today’s TV anchors call “breaking,” such as the Clear Creek Bridge collapse in 1939 where a number of people drowned. Or perhaps it was a political rally at city park or the annual chicken and spaghetti supper at Jett High School.
For several years, he wrote a Sunday feature, “Neighborly Yours,” where he borrowed events from the past — some serious, some humorous, most personal. He often wrote of people who never sought recognition but should be celebrated. He might write seriously of the cyclone at Yokena or of Mr. Massie who “Grew Hay, Minded His Own Business” or of Jim Houston, “A Man Who Transcended Racial Lines.”
He could take a mundane event such as how his Uncle Romey waved or how Grandpa Faulk shaved, or the story of how he disappointed his mother on Mother’s Day and create a story that captivated his readers.
To me, his best was about a little boy at Christmas, waiting and watching for Santa, but finally falling asleep only to be awakened when Santa’s whiskers brushed against his face. Some said it was only the cat’s tail, but the child knew better because the next morning there was the red wagon he had wished for. The little boy was Charlie Faulk.
Charlie received his share of accolades, but he never took time to bask in the glory. It was his work that primarily won the Pulitzer Prize for The Vicksburg Evening Post, but he treasured most the honors that came from the readers, for he was a wordsmith, and they loved his way with words.
With the typewriter and a camera, he captured in print and on film images of life in the South, especially Warren County.
He usually had a smile on his face which reflected his warm and friendly personality and also a delightful sense of humor. He was always kind and understanding. He was the kind of boss everyone on the staff was eager to please.
Shortly before his death on March 30, 1990, he talked to me about life and the quality of life. Just being alive didn’t make life worth living.
Charlie Faulk certainly made my life better, and I’ll always love him for it.
I never had a better boss.
Chris Williams: called to be an educator
The road that led Chris Williams to the position as Head of School at Porter’s Chapel Academy has not been a straight or certain one.
His life’s road split when, as an adult, he gave his life to the Lord. “It was then that I realized God had a special calling on my life,” Williams said, “but I wasn’t exactly sure what it was.”
At that point, Williams had earned a degree in marketing from Mississippi State University. He had married, started a family, and was settled comfortably with successful career in sales and a position with International Paper Mill.
Once his heart belonged to Jesus, Williams began working actively with the youth in his church. It was then he realized that he was being called to not only preach God’s word but also work even more closely with young people.
He began taking master’s level classes in education from Alcorn State University in 1998 and found himself entering an entirely new field.
“Being an educator is the good Lord saying, ‘I have a mission for you for the sake of My children.’ No amount of money can pull you away from a true calling from the Lord to do His work,” Williams said.
He spent the next few years teaching at Dana Road Elementary, Vicksburg Junior High and South Park Elementary. He then spent one year as a lead teacher back at Dana Road, two years as an assistant principal at Warren Central Junior High, and the next four years as the eighth-grade principal.
At that time, he changed course again and began a full-time job as pastor of Wayside Baptist Church in 2013.
Williams said he felt God continue calling him to do more, so he worked to further his own education. He received an Education Specialists Degree in Educational Leadership from Mississippi College in 2014.
While attending MC, he was mentored by Christian educators who helped foster his desire to make a difference in education on a larger scale.
“I only stepped away from education for six months, but I was missing out on all of the fun,” he said. That’s when his road led him to Porter’s Chapel Academy.
Moving from the Vicksburg Warren School District to the Head of School at PCA was a leap of faith.
“There are a lot of unforeseen hurdles and unexpected challenges that come along with an administrative position,” Williams said. “I was accustomed to the classroom where you’re mostly concerned with making sure every one of your students is getting the best possible education you can provide. To take on that responsibility in a much larger scale has been trying. Add to that everything from handling student discipline to leaking ceilings. An administrator pretty much has their hands in a little bit of everything.”
Williams has proven he is not scared of change, and he said he will continue to tackle his latest role just like he approaches everything in his life — “with a lot of prayer and faith” that God will guide him in choosing the right direction should his life’s road fork again.
Engaging young readers to explore the world through words
For most people, retirement means turning off the alarm clock and relaxing the days away. Vicksburg native Kelle Barfield is not most people.
Barfield’s resume includes a degree in magazine journalism and a move to New York City for positions at Doubleday-Dell Publishing, Random House and Southern Living. She returned to Vicksburg in 1986 and began her position as a technical editor of nuclear procedures at Grand Gulf Nuclear Station. She was planning to finally retire in 2018, when she learned that the founder of Lorelei Books was also retiring, and Vicksburg’s only local bookstore would close.
“Every town needs a bookstore!” Barfield said, so she purchased the restoration-era building and is spending her retirement continuing the legacy of Lorelei.
Vicksburg’s younger readers are grateful she did.
“My father was a voracious reader with an incessantly curious mind. My inherited DNA loves literacy and learning as much as the air I breathe,” Barfield said. Because of this, she tries to instill her love of exploring the world through books in the children that visit her store.
Before the pandemic, Lorelei hosted story readings on Saturdays. The store also offered craft activities, free materials for children to write their own books and hosted guest readers. Children could also participate in a pen-pal program where children write their favorite literary character and get a letter back in the mail.
“Who doesn’t love getting a real letter?” Barfield asked.
She didn’t let the pandemic totally stop her from engaging readers. She created an Easter family drive-by word search challenge downtown. It encouraged children to work with their parents to come up with as many words as they could from letters displayed on large Easter egg posters.
According to Barfield, “Learning should truly be a family activity enjoyed by all.”
Although the pandemic has temporarily stopped some of Lorelei’s programs, Barfield is not giving up. She has been in talks with Marie Cunningham, head of children’s programs for the Warren County-Vicksburg Public Library, about a partnership of online reading events as a substitute for in person story time.
Lorelei has set up a YouTube channel and is working out the kinks to present Facebook video posts of readings.
“We had many ideas prior to the pandemic that we’re hoping to establish once it’s clearer what the future holds for online and in person events,” Barfield said.
Barfield also works with organizations such as United Way and Mutual Credit Union to support literacy in schools.
“We recently used a very generous donation to gift 150 books to A.W. Watson Elementary School in memory of Heidi Burrell,” she said. “She was a United Way staffer who we lost in July. I’m prayerful that ‘Heidi’s Hideout’ will offer the joy of learning to even more youngsters in our region.”
In this age of computers, Kindles and internet superstores, Vicksburg’s young readers are lucky to have Lorelei Books and Kelle Barfield’s version of retirement.
Anyone wanting to donate a book to Heidi’s Hideout can call Lorelei Books at 601-634-8624 and arrange to have a book delivered in their name.
Martin and Mosher inducted as ERDC Distinguished Civilian Employees
The U.S. Army Engineering Research and Development Center will induct two former employees to the Waterways Experiment Station Gallery of Distinguished Civilian Employees Oct. 15 at 1 p.m. in the ERDC Headquarters Auditorium.
Dr. Bill Martin and Dr. Reed Mosher will join the ranks of more than 100 former employees whose significant career achievements left a lasting impression on both ERDC and the nation.
Martin and Mosher both served as directors of laboratories at the ERDC. Both pioneered technologies that proved to be life saving for American Soldiers and both left behind a remarkable legacy when they retired from federal service.
Each year, the ERDC inducts new members to the gallery, the highest honor bestowed to those who have worked at WES in Vicksburg.
Martin, a U.S. Army veteran, ended his 41-year ERDC career in 2013 as director of the Coastal and Hydraulics Laboratory. In that role, he led a $90 million research program that provided cutting-edge technology solutions to more than 500 projects around the world. Martin was also instrumental in updating the lab’s world-class facilities, including the development of a state-of-the-art Ship Simulator Complex, which allows engineers and pilots to simulate ports, harbors and maritime environments all over the world.
Martin is also remembered for being a leader in addressing complex groundwater issues on military installations, as well as for leading a team that performed emergency modeling of the Sava River in Bosnia-Herzegovina in support of the 1st Armor Division’s peacekeeping role after the Balkan War. His team provided daily river condition forecasts and answered engineering questions for more than 450 consecutive days, which led to the creation of the WES Tele-Engineering Program. Today that program is known as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Reachback Operations Center, which is located in Vicksburg and connects deployed troops in the field to subject-matter experts back home who can help solve engineering challenges for them.
Mosher, who spent 40 years as a federal employee, retired as director of the Information Technology Laboratory in 2018. Under his leadership, the lab’s staff grew by 108%, becoming the second largest ERDC laboratory. He also oversaw the construction of a 66,000 square-foot expansion to the laboratory, and his vision for a new secure computing facility is under construction and scheduled for completion later this year.
Before his ITL role, Mosher served as the lead technical director for military engineering in the Geotechnical and Structures Laboratory, where he was also directly involved with assessments after some of the world’s most notorious attacks and bombings — Oklahoma City in 1995, the U.S. Embassies in Africa in 1998 and the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the Pentagon. He was instrumental in developing new technologies designed to protect soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan from rockets, mortars and other explosives.
Even after their retirements, both inductees are still involved with the ERDC today. Martin is a member and served as the 2019 president of the ERDC Alumni Association, while Mosher is the director of the Mississippi State University Institute for Systems Engineering Research, a partnership initiative with the ERDC.
Remembering Charlie Faulk: the best boss I ever had
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