Salter's Fair memories gravitate
toward 'great old stump speakers'
Friday, July 25, 2014 1:00 PM
Occupation and what it entails:
I am the Chief Communications Officer at Mississippi State University and Director of the Office of Public Affairs. I lead a combined staff of 26.
In that role, I lead the university's strategic communications and marketing efforts by utilizing MSU's print, broadcast and multimedia newsroom, social media platform, advertising agency, photography and videography studios, and graphic design operation. Public Affairs is also charged with managing and populating MSU's website, response to outside media requests, and the management of crisis information during emergencies. I'm also the administrator of MSU's campus radio station, WMSV-FM 91.1, and the University Television Center.
How long have you been coming to the Fair?
I've been coming all my life, but I suppose I really learned to love the Fair through our family's friendship with the Howard and Gerry Cole family. My late twin sister Sheila and I spent several Fairs with the Cole family and they made us feel like family. As an adult, we spent a number of years with Pete and Alice Perry and their children.
Tell us about the cABIN you are staying in:
In 1989, my longtime friend and business partner Gale Denley of Bruce and I had the opportunity to buy the old Bruner Trapp family cabin - Cabin No. 16 - on Founder's Square. There were 32 different heirs to the cabin.
It was one-story, had a cistern and was actually attached to the side of the George Mars cabin. Gale and I tore the old cabin down board-by-board to keep from damaging the Mars cabin. We had the present two-story cabin built in time for the 1989 centennial Fair. We called it "Faux Pas" because at that point, it was still considered sort of a breach of etiquette to fully air condition a cabin on the Square.
I'm glad to see that tradition has fallen by the wayside in great measure. Gale and I did everything with our Fair cabin on a handshake and I think our families took note of how important we thought it was that everyone get along and have a good time together. And we did. Today, the Denley, Salter, McNeece, Hillhouse, Clements, Gregory, Pratt, Bailey, Rea, Adams, Pope and Russell families share the cabin during Fair week.
What are some of your favorite memories of the Fair growing up as a child?
My memories gravitate toward the great old stump speakers I heard under the Pavilion as a kid - Ross Barnett, Jimmy Swan, Roy Black, John Arthur Eaves Sr., J.P. Coleman, Bill Waller Sr. and others - and they really taught me to love politics. I guess the most infamous was longshot candidate Robert "Blowtorch" Mason, a welder who asked voters to elect him governor so he could move his wife into a fancy home with indoor plumbing and electricity. I didn't agree with what some of them had to say, but I really liked the theatrics. I still do.
What do you like best about the Fair now?
It's a pleasure to me to see people my parents Leo and Alline Salter taught during their long public education careers. I love watching the Friday night fireworks with my daughter and my wife.
When the last fireworks blow up and the show's over, my summer's over and the next season begins - football season. I'm also a sucker for those nine-layer orange or lemon cakes.
Having the grandchildren with us is also a hoot. Getting to be with the Denley girls - Lisa, Celia and sometimes Deanna - is like a family reunion.
And my sister Sharon Pratt's son Brandon and his wife Lauren are a special part of our fair time.
What are some of your favorite "family traditions" at the Fair?
I really enjoy our annual family photo made on the cabin porch. It's grown a lot since the early days.
Mostly, I just enjoy being with family and friends who are like family. I enjoy the harness racing and, of course, I like talking politics with those who drop by the porch. I love the time I spend each year with Snooky and Mary Lou Williams, who are the Pied Pipers of the Square.
We all have more fun because of them.
What aspects of the Fair do you hope will never change?
Other than a 20-degree drop in temperatures, I wouldn't change a thing. The Fair Board and the committee chairmen continue to amaze me with the precision and organization they bring each year to a very complex and difficult event. I also greatly appreciate the very dedicated service of our fair manager Doug Johnson. He really has a servant's heart and takes care of the cabin owners 365 days a year.
What significant events have happened in your life since you left Philadelphia?
I've had a good life. There have been challenges, to be certain, but the birth of my daughter, Kate, in 1986 was the most significant thing in my life and remains so. My first wife, Paula, battled Multiple Sclerosis during most of our 23-year marriage before her death in 2005. That was difficult and it was followed just a few months later by the death of my twin sister, Sheila Salter Klimetz. When my wife Leilani came into my life, she brought a lot of healing, laughter and joy.
Family is what matters and I'm very grateful for mine. Leilani's three children have given us four wonderful grandchildren: Rowan, 10; Morgan, 6; Kalli,5; and Baylor, 2. Kate, in spite of knowing the life of a reporter, married a talented young journalist from Senatobia named Nathan Gregory, whose is the local government reporter for The Commercial Dispatch daily newspaper in Columbus. They live in Starkville. After a long career in Mississippi journalism as a newspaper publisher, editor and syndicated columnist, I find at this stage of life that I'm enjoying longer form writing. In 2011, I wrote the biography: "Jack Cristil: Voice of the MSU Bulldogs."
In 2014, I edited and was the principal writer of "G.V. 'Sonny' Montgomery: Patriot, Soldier and Statesman," a collaboration of the MSU Libraries and the G.V. "Sonny" Montgomery Foundation.
I've contributed essays to two of the series of University Press of Mississippi collections of Mississippi writers done by editors Charline McCord and Judy Tucker, including 2008's "Growing Up in Mississippi" and projected 2015 collection "A Year in Mississippi" that will include an essay I wrote at their request about the Neshoba County Fair. Presently, I'm researching another sports biography project.