Sunday, October 25, 2020

Oxford's Women on the Move: From Hawaii with Love

Photo courtesy of Melanie Thompson.’s Steve Vassallo sat down with Melanie Thompson who is not your typical banking exec. FNB’s Marketing Manager has a most interesting past and an even more promising future. Here’s her story of inspiration for all Oxford residents, current and future.

Vassallo: Melanie, let’s talk about first your childhood, growing up in Oxford and what that was like for you.
Thompson: Oxford was a great place to grow up. My grandmother was on one end of North Lamar, and I had friends sprinkled all around my neighborhood. We were in all the backyards and even hit Oxford Floral and DeAnna’s Confections for special treats when we earned a little spending money. When it was time to come home for dinner, my mom would ring a bell on the back porch…very small town.
Vassallo: Most high school students prefer to visit other neighborhoods when selecting a college, but you decided to stay close to home.
Thompson: I visited other universities, but when I received a scholarship to Ole Miss, I decided to stay in Oxford. I am an Ole Miss Rebel.
Vassallo: While at Ole Miss, your interests leaned towards hospitality management, opposed to business and banking.
Thompson: I have always enjoyed cooking. I was the child at my mother’s and grandmother’s heels in the kitchen soaking up as many secrets as I could. My dad required me to get a 4 year degree before heading off to culinary school…but I didn’t realize I would have a pay for culinary school…so, I took a real job with benefits upon graduation.
Vassallo: Immediately following your life at the university, you accepted the position of catering director at Rhodes College.
Thompson: Yes, as a sorority sister who transferred from Rhodes told me…I would be the girl with the cart. But, it was fun to share my experience in the City Grocery kitchen with the staff at Rhodes, and we quickly raised the bar with on campus events.
Vassallo: Your career for the next fifteen years then took you to the world of publishing and cookbooks where you had some incredible experiences.
Thompson: Wimmer cookbooks was truly unique. I flew all over the country and worked with some amazing groups and individuals, many of which I am still close friends with. One of those special friends has come back into my life recently as her middle son just finished his freshman year at Ole Miss. Local books I worked on were “Square Table,” “Gimme Some Sugar Darlin,” “Are You Ready?” and “Inside my Italian Kitchen.”
Vassallo: We haven’t asked you about your husband, Billy, and how you two met.
Thompson: Billy came to Ole Miss from Oahu, Hawaii to run track, but running in Mississippi is a totally different environment! Shortly after, John Currence put him to work for real while he finished college. John also was friends with my father and allowed me to get a little real life restaurant experience before applying for culinary school. So, the City Grocery kitchen is where Billy and I first met, thanks to John!
Vassallo: It must be an added bonus marrying someone from such an exotic place (volcanos excluded). Have you visited our 50th state often?
Thompson: Billy’s parents lived there for 42 years, and I was blessed to visit 4 times before they moved to the mainland. We are actually hoping to get back there this summer and show Wright where his daddy grew up! Volcano National park in the plan, but we shall see…
Vassallo: You entered the banking field just five years ago, but your motivation initially to change careers was to be able to spend more time with your son, Wright.
Thompson: My little man is a crafty one. At 3 1/2 years old, he took my phone, turned it to silent, and hid it under my pedestal bathtub. He wanted my undivided attention, which is hard to come by when you work from home and travel. I took notice and decided to make a shift in my work life. It was hard to start over in the middle of my life, but FNB has been a great transition!

Photo courtesy of Melanie Thompson.

Vassallo: Apparently, the banking profession is agreeing with you. What all do your responsibilities include?
Thompson: You never know. I get to do all kinds of things. This week I will have 4 first grade classes come tour; last week we went to the Oxford Learning Center to teach a little banking, and next week I will get to spend Wednesday morning at the pantry. Other responsibilities: Website, Credit Card Campaign, FNB Advantage, Customer Service training, Advertising and Sponsorships, and really anything anyone asks me to help with. Never a dull moment in the Marketing Department of one.
Vassallo: Your personal DNA is definitely focused on the community and giving back. Your weekly tutoring at Della Davidson is quite a contribution of time and passion.
Thompson: I love working with children and admire teachers greatly. I think reading is a life sport and want to help create a love of books while helping these young ladies meet their AR goals. We enjoy our time together, and I have to say, there is nothing more incredible that walking through the halls of the school and hearing your name and receiving hugs galore. Makes you feel like a rock star. Love those kiddos.
Vassallo: While you were with Wimmer Cookbooks, you traveled a great deal. Where were some of the more interesting places you visited?
Thompson: I traveled to 32 state. This country is truly diverse, and I loved everywhere I went. Seeing big cities and small towns alike with the real people from that community is pretty special. My last trip before transitioning to FNB was with Barbara and Jack Nicholas on their book “Well Done! Life, Love, & Food” in West Palm Beach, Florida. They were so much fun to be with, and Barbara and her daughter Nan O’Leary are incredible cooks.
Vassallo: Hiking is another passion of yours. Share with us about some of the traveled trails in Utah that you have encountered.
Thompson: I love to be outdoors. I worked one summer in Maine and fell in love with hiking. A couple of years ago my husband took me to his favorite hiking area, Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon in Utah. It was an incredible trip. We hiked all day and every day was different. Such a beautiful place, and I hope to take my son back in the near future.
Vassallo: You are in a unique position to compare the Oxford of today to the one of yesteryear. How has your hometown fared and has it been all positive?
Thompson: The growth has been incredible. Some good and some bad, but all in all, we have some pretty neat places to eat, listen to music, Broadway shows to see, walking and hiking trails…Oxford is an easy life and I am grateful to be here. Also, Mayor Tannehill recently spoke at a club meeting, and they are making strides in the right direction to handle the increase in population which is comforting.
Vassallo: Melanie, your life has been adventurous, exciting and has taken you to some phenomenal places, meeting some of the most interesting individuals in the process. What advice can you extend to Oxford’s graduating seniors as they enter into the global economy of 2018?
Thompson: Sometimes we can stay in our bubble. I encourage everyone to find some way to give back to their community. It can be donating your old books to the library, or helping tutor at children, or serving a community meal. Oxford is a special place, but like every other community in this world, people are suffering. Wherever you land in life, do your part and find something you are passionate about and give back. Do something to increase some else’s quality of life.

Steve VassalloSteve Vassallo is a contributor. Steve writes on Ole Miss athletics, Oxford business, politics and other subjects. He is an Ole Miss grad and former radio announcer for the basketball team. Currently, Steve is a highly successful leader in the real estate business who lives in Oxford with his wife Rosie. You can contact Steve at or call him at 985-852-7745.