DENNIS SEID: The voice of the market will be missed

By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal

Barbara Roberts was one of the first people I met at the Tupelo Furniture Market nearly six years ago.
New to Tupelo, the Daily Journal and the furniture industry, I scheduled an interview with V.M. Cleveland, the chairman and CEO of the market, and his brother, Bill, who was president of the market.
I didn’t know what to expect. I’d never heard of the Tupelo Furniture Market, much less the fact that I was in the middle of the upholstered furniture capital of the world.
Barbara quickly put me at ease when I arrived.
At the desk where she sat, nimbly picking up the constantly ringing phone, she looked up and smiled with that hold-on-I’ll-be-right-with-you look.
“Tupelo Furniture Market, this is Barbara, please hold,” she said about a half dozen times before smiling once again and welcoming me to the TFM complex.
I told her who I was and she let Bill know that I had arrived.
“He’ll be right with you,” she said, smiling broadly before tackling the phone that was once again ringing off the hook.
Her warm welcome was greatly appreciated by me, as it was by countless thousands of others who have visited the market during the past 20 years.
You knew you were in good hands when Barbara was sitting at the desk in the lobby of Building II.
And we’ll always cherish her memory.
She died on Good Friday due to complications from surgery. She was 67.

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I had the pleasure of writing a profile about her two years ago. I pulled up that old story and smiled at what Bill Cleveland said about her:
“She’s the voice of the furniture market; she’s our top ambassador,” he said. “She remembers people, remembers their names, where they’re from, who they work for … it’s amazing. You don’t know how difficult her job is until she’s on a break. Then you wonder how she does everything.”
In the story, Barbara’s co-workers described her as a second mother and someone you could depend on in a pinch.
A business is only as good as its employees. Barbara was a rock. And she was often the lighthouse on the rock, guiding wayward ships to the shore.
Who else could have deftly managed the tremendous volume of calls and dealt with issues that usually crop up during a trade show?
“She wears many hats,” I wrote in that 2008 story, “including receptionist, scheduler, greeter and problem-solver.
“Job description? Forget it.”
V.M. Cleveland said there was no point in having a job description for her.
“She pretty much knows the infrastructure and all of the Ws – the who, what, when, where and why – of everything here,” he said. “She’s usually the first contact for most people coming here, whether it’s by phone or in person, and she does just a fantastic job for us.”
Asked when she might retire, Barbara said she wouldn’t know what to do.
“I’ll be here as long as they want me,” she said.
You know what?
Everyone will miss Barbara – but she will always be at the Tupelo Furniture Market.

Contact Daily Journal Business Editor Dennis Seid at (662) 678-1578 or dennis.seid@djournal.com.