Saturday, August 13, 2022

Lining Up the Stars in Cleveland

Six weeks ago, Delta State University located in my home town of Cleveland, received a new president, Bill LaForge. LaForge grew up in Cleveland, graduated from Delta State, went to law school at Ole Miss, then spent his career in Washington as Thad Cochran’s chief of staff, and was a partner in several prominent Washington area law firms. For years, Delta State folks have been pleading with him to return home and become president. Six weeks ago, that finally happened and now LaForge is the chief executive of Delta State.

Recently, I attended an event held by Pat Tigrett at her Memphis home overlooking the Mississippi River that celebrated LaForge’s arrival. The event was also to introduce him to the Memphis leadership.

Pat is one outstanding person. Her late husband, John Tigrett, who lived in my town of Cleveland until his teens, was a great U.S. and European businessman. Pat’s stepson, Isaac Tigrett is the founder of the Hard Rock Cafe and House of Blues chains. However, Pat has had her own career and she is one of the most respected and celebrated clothing designers in the industry — worldwide. Her friends include U.S. Presidents, Hollywood movie stars, and titans of industry in this country and in Europe as well. So, Pat hosting an event for the Memphis leadership to meet Bill and hear about Delta State was a significant opportunity for that school.

Since arriving at DSU, LaForge has been moving non-stop making the rounds throughout the region meeting with business leaders, elected officials, high school students, and the media. During a recent visit to Memphis, he met with the Commercial Appeal newspaper and the dominant television station there, WMC – to promote Delta State.

LaForge reminds me of former Ole Miss leader, Robert Khayat, our former governor, Haley Barbour, and Miss. State president, Mark Keenum. I can tell you first hand that these leaders have boundless energy, extraordinary political skills, and are as smart as they can be.

In Khayat’s case, he raised a billion dollars that completely took Ole Miss to the next level and in doing so transformed the town of Oxford. In Haley’s case, he turned around Mississippi economically and his excellent handling of Hurricane Katrina –– the devastation and the rebuild –– will be in the history books forever.

Mark Keenum, is doing the same thing right now with MSU –– taking that school to the next level with the town of Starkville following along. In fact, when LaForge stepped down from his chief of staff position with Senator Cochran many years ago, LaForge hired Keenum to take his place.

LaForge carries these same leadership qualities and just like Khayat and Keenum, LaForge holds the keys to taking DSU to that next level which in turn will build Cleveland and the Mississippi Delta. It is going to take a lot of work, it will take several years, and volunteers will be needed as well as financial support from the greater Delta community and the Delta State alumni.

Good days are ahead for Delta State including the upcoming Grammy Museum that will be built on the campus there. This new structure will be a satellite of the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles. I will keep you posted.

Scott Coopwood, a seventh generation Deltan, lives in Cleveland, Mississippi, with his wife Cindy and their three children. Scott is the publisher and owner of Delta Magazine, one of the South’s leading lifestyle publications, the Delta Business Journal, the first business publication in the Mississippi Delta; and Cleveland’s weekly newspaper, The Cleveland Current.

Email Scott Coopwood at scott@coopwood.net

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