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Bonnie Brown: Q&A with Jean and Rusty Pinion

The latest interview in the Ole Miss Retirees features Jean and Rusty Pinion. The organization’s mission is to enable the university’s faculty and staff retirees to maintain and promote a close association with the university. It is the goal of the Ole Miss Faculty/Staff Retirees Association to maintain communication by providing opportunities to attend and participate in events and presentations.

Jean and Rusty Pinion

Rusty and Jean Pinion are a wonderful, picture-perfect couple. Both are talented, successful, and have deep roots in Oxford and love of their family. Their dedication and service to Ole Miss are greatly appreciated.     

Brown: Where were you born? Where did you grow up? What was special about your hometown?

Jean: I was born in Bruce, Mississippi. We moved to Taylor, Mississippi, when I was in the second grade and lived there for the rest of my childhood. Taylor is a small community, so we knew most of our neighbors.  

Rusty: I was born in the old Bramlett Hospital in Oxford and have lived in Tula, Mississippi, all my life, so far! A lot of kids lived in Tula, and most were kin to each other. We all enjoyed playing outside together, riding bicycles, riding horses, and playing ball in each other’s yards.

Brown: Please talk about your parents and any siblings.

Jean: When we were kids, Daddy worked out of state for a while and Mama worked at Ole Miss. Later they both worked at Freeman Truck Line in Oxford. Mama worked there until they closed and then she worked at Graceland Care Center until the year before her death. She worked at the front desk where all the visitors saw her when they went to visit family. She was a perfect example of Matthew 5:16 – she truly let her light shine and I often have people tell me what a comfort she was to them. Jane Baker and Kathye Thweatt are my sisters. I am the middle girl. Our brother, Kenny, was three years younger than me, and Kathye is the baby.  Kenny loved to ride horses and was a lot of fun to be around. He was a tough guy, but he was so kind to people who were mistreated by other people. My favorite memories of childhood are of going to Gulf Shores, Alabama, on vacations. In 1981, Kenny was killed and those wonderful memories of our family vacations truly helped us all to survive losing him. Whenever I get a chance to go to the beach now, I still feel the presence of Kenny and our parents there, and it gives me some peace.

Kathye, Jane, and Jean at the beach

Rusty: I was blessed with loving parents. My father worked for Ole Miss in Carrier Hall for 38 years.  My mother worked in Lafayette County School system in the cafeteria for 25 years. I have two brothers, Rodney and Randall. Randall works at the University of Mississippi Physical Plant and has been there for 22 years. Rodney moved back home from Washington, D.C., last year after our Mother passed away and he is now working in Oxford.

Brown: What’s your earliest childhood memory?

Jean: Dancing with my Daddy when I was a little girl. I would stand on his feet, hold his hands and we danced. Most of the time, he sang along with the song too. He had a beautiful voice.  That is a wonderful memory.

Rusty: I remember being at my grandparents’ farm, riding around in the pasture with Grandaddy, while standing up in the seat in his old truck.

Brown: What were you really into when you were a kid? 

Jean:  We always had something fun to do outside—climbing trees, swinging on grapevines, riding bikes, and going on picnics with our Mama. 

Rusty: I have always been interested in music. When I was 9 years old, I started taking guitar lessons from Mr. Christman, who gave lessons at Lafayette School. I learned to play banjo at about age 15 and still play it today.

Brown: Where did you go to school?

Jean: First grade and part of second grade, I went to school in Bruce. During the second grade we moved to Taylor, and I went to school there until Lafayette County Schools opened. I was at Lafayette for the rest of school.  

Rusty: I was at Lafayette County Schools for all 12 years.

Brown: Talk about your high school experience.

Jean: I had a lot of friends, both girls and boys, and I am still good friends with many of my classmates. When we were in high school, there were rules about how short you could get away with wearing your dresses. I admit, I wore mine short! I had a classmate whose last name began with “B” like mine, so he sat behind me in one of our classes. We had gone to school together since I moved to Taylor in the second grade, so I guess he was comfortable playing a trick on me.  One day as I was about to sit down at my desk, he waited until I was turned around and about to sit down.  Then he jerked my chair out from under me!  Of course, I fell in the floor with my (probably too short) skirt.  I was very embarrassed, but not as much as him because Mrs. Cardwell made him stand behind me and hold the chair for me as I sat down, just like a “real gentleman,” making everyone else laugh! I wonder if he remembers that day?

Brown: What subjects were hardest/easiest for you in school?

Jean: I really enjoyed my English and Literature classes. Science classes were not my favorite, but I loved my biology teacher, Mrs. Sanders. She was certainly a fun teacher.

Rusty: I always liked math and disliked English. I enjoyed the carpentry classes at the B&I Complex during the 11th and 12th grades.

Brown: When you were 5 years old and asked what you wanted to be when you grew up, how did you respond?

Jean: I would have probably said I wanted to be a singer. I loved singing along to any song, but regretfully, I am not a good singer. I wish I could sing well enough to get on stage at our Tula Opry, but everyone would probably leave!

Brown: Who influenced you in your early life? Did you have a mentor who influenced your career path?

Jean: My Mama and my Grandmother Carter were my true mentors. Both did clerical work and that’s what I ended up spending most of my life doing.  

Rusty: My parents, grandparents, and a lot of people in our community, influenced my early life. My Grandfather Pinion was a cabinet maker and that’s what I went on to be.

Brown: What was your first job, perhaps as a teen? What were your responsibilities? How much were you paid? 

Jean: My first job was as a secretary at Chambers Manufacturing (later called Whirlpool) the summer after I graduated from high school. I can’t remember what my salary was, but I thought it was great to be able to make my own money! 

Rusty: I mowed the yard of the widow who lived across the road from us when I was a kid.  She paid me $2.50 — not per hour, but per job! I also hauled hay for local farmers in the summer.

Brown: Tell us how/when your Ole Miss story began. Who hired you? Talk about the interview.  How long did you work at Ole Miss?

Jean: Colonel Max Waldrop hired me to work in the Accounting Department at the Ole Miss Bookstore in 1984. I worked there until 1986, leaving for an off-campus job. In 1990, I was hired by Dr. Frank Gilmore to be a secretary in the Medicinal Chemistry Department at the School of Pharmacy. I transferred to the School of Pharmacy Dean’s Office after a few years and worked there until retirement after 25 years. 

Rusty: I started working in the Furniture Shop at the Physical Plant Department on September 5, 1978. Mr. Hosey Locke hired me, and I worked there for 30 years.

Brown: Tell us about your role/responsibilities at Ole Miss.

Jean: Most of my work was with Graduate Students in the School of Pharmacy. I met so many wonderful people from all over the world. When I started out in the Medicinal Chemistry department, one of our graduate students really helped me as I learned how to use the computer. In the beginning of my time at UM, no one had personal computers. We had to go to the Computer Lab, which was run by James Coffey. During my time working in the Dean’s Office, I was very fortunate to interact with so many wonderful students.

Brown: Working on a college campus, I’m sure you have had some memorable experiences.  Describe your most memorable days at work.

Jean: We shared an amazing experience at UM! Even though it wasn’t a part of our normal day at work, we were on campus and we had the experience because of Rusty’s job. Chancellor Robert Khayat often asked for Rusty’s help — anything from hanging signs to working on things in the Chancellor’s house. During the opening of the Ford Center, there was a special concert with musical performances by Marty Stuart, Connie Smith, Merle Haggard, and others.  Chancellor Khayat hosted a picnic at the Chancellor’s house for the visiting musicians. Since he knew that Rusty was in a Bluegrass band, he asked the group to perform at the picnic. This little group of local musicians in Oxford performed for Marty, Connie, Merle and the others.  Thankfully, I was able to be there with them. We got to meet those special celebrities and will always have wonderful memories of that amazing experience!   

Brown: How did you two meet?

Jean: I had seen Rusty several times when he came to do some work in the School of Pharmacy, but I had never really had a conversation with him. Our mutual friend Holly decided she would fix us up, so she brought him to a bonfire at my mother’s house one weekend. We ended up going on our first date a week later. We recently celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary — Thank you, Holly!

Brown: Talk about your children and grandchildren.

Jean: I have two daughters, Jennifer Murphree (J.J.) and Ashley Grantham. J.J. and her husband, Kimmy, live in Bruce. Their son, Kadon, lives across the street from them, and he is married to Taylor (Perkins). Taylor is a student in the Law School at Ole Miss, and they are expecting a baby boy in January. I am so excited about becoming a Great Grammy. Ashley and her family live in Oxford. Ashley’s husband, Jonathon, is a Deputy Sheriff and is a School Resource Officer at Lafayette Schools. They are the parents of Molly Adyson and Grant. Molly is in the ninth grade at Lafayette and Grant is in the fourth. Molly is a cheerleader and is on the volleyball team. Grant is playing baseball and he is learning to play the drums. We have a great time with them when they find the time to be with us, which is never enough.  J.J. and Ashley both work at Rebel Rags and Taylor works there too. Also, our Molly Adyson is famous for being in the Rebel Rags commercial saying, “Anything, Everything, Ole Miss,” when she was a little girl!  

Rusty: I have a son, Jesse Pinion. He graduated from Lafayette High School and from Ole Miss with an Engineering degree. Jesse and his wife Kelley live in Oxford. Jesse and Kelley are both amazing musicians/singers but have to work “real” jobs too. Jesse is an electrical engineer at Winchester. Kelley’s son, Spencer Norris, is a sophomore at Mississippi State, and is working on a degree in Physical Therapy. Sometimes he gets to travel with the football team.  

Brown: What are some skills that you think everyone should learn?

Jean: Everyone should learn how to make change when you pay them with cash.  Some people rely too much on technology instead of learning certain “skills.”

Brown: What single event has had the biggest impact on who you are?

Jean: I truly can say that marrying Rusty has had the biggest impact on who I am today. I have truly grown so much in my Christian walk because Rusty and I worship together, we pray together, and we truly enjoy our time together.

Rusty: The day I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior.

Brown:  What’s the best part of your day?

Jean & Rusty: We enjoy having coffee together on our back deck early in the morning.

Brown: What is the best advice you ever received?

Jean: My Mama always said, “My girls may not be the prettiest, but they are sweet.”  So, I guess the advice was her urging us to always “be sweet.”  I try to be friendly to everyone I come in contact with. You never know when someone needs to see a friendly face.

Rusty: “Always tell the truth and you will never be caught in a lie.”

Brown: Describe your perfect weekend.

Jean and Rusty: We love getting up early and driving to Tupelo for breakfast at Cracker Barrel. Then we will get on the Natchez Trace and drive slowly so we can enjoy the beautiful scenery. We usually stop at different spots on the Trace and walk on the trails. Tishomingo State Park is one of our favorite places to walk. It is especially beautiful when there has been enough rain for the streams on the trails to be full of water. We usually get off the Trace and ride to Pickwick Lake. We love to eat at the Outpost or go to Michie, Tennessee, and eat at Top O’ the River. Yes, we love to ride, and we love to eat!

Brown: What is the title of the current chapter of your life?

Jean & Rusty: “The Quiet Life in Tula, Mississippi!”

Brown: What’s your favorite movie and how many times have you watched it?

Rusty: “The Outlaw Josey Wales” — I’ve seen it about 20 times: “Are you gonna pull those pistols or whistle Dixie?”

Brown: Tell us something about yourself that not many people may know.

Jean: My Dad, Mom, Jane, and I lived in Chicago until I was 4 years old, and it was time for Jane to start school.

Brown: What’s your favorite way to waste time?

Jean: Just sitting on our back deck when it’s quiet and peaceful, having a cup of coffee and just being together!

Brown: Fill in this blank: If I could snap my fingers and acquire an experience or talent, it would be…

Rusty: I would love to be able to sing!

Brown: What do you do to get rid of stress?

Rusty: Play music on my banjo or Dobro.

Brown: What song would you sing at Karaoke night?

Jean: “Daydream Believer.”

Brown: What are your pet peeves?

Rusty: Other drivers passing me when I am going the speed limit.

Brown: What makes you happy?

Jean: Spending time with my family and I’m always happy when I can go to the beach. I love walking on the beach, watching the sun rise or set!

Rusty: Spending time with family and playing music.

Brown: It is said that we learn something every day. What is something new that you’ve learned recently? 

Rusty: I recently learned how to cook a banana budding like my mother used to make.

Brown: What are some favorite leisure activities?

Jean: I love to see my grandchildren participate in sports and I love spending time with them doing anything.

Rusty: Pickin’ and grinnin’

Rusty playing the banjo

Brown: Looking back on your life, what have you done that has given you the most satisfaction? 

Jean: My precious children and grandchildren have always been such a joy to me and becoming a family with Rusty has certainly been an added bonus!

Rusty: Playing music, building the Tula Opry, my son and his family, and the friends I have made in my lifetime!

The Tula Opry Photo by John Cofield

Brown: Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give your 20-year-old self?

Jean: Don’t stress the small stuff!

Rusty: Spend more time with your children when they are young.

Brown: How do you recharge?

Jean: Going to church and going on leisurely rides with Rusty!

Rusty: Going to church.

Bonnie Brown is a retired staff member of the University of Mississippi. She most recently served as Mentoring Coordinator for the Ole Miss Women’s Council for Philanthropy. For questions or comments, email her at bbrown@olemiss.edu.

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