TUPELO – Doyce Deas wasn’t born with a silver spoon in her mouth.
Although she comes from one of Tupelo’s wealthiest families, the Democratic mayoral candidate spent her childhood working.
When she wasn’t billing and filing at her father’s company, she was doing manual labor on the family farm or cooking dinner for her parents and three siblings.
“Two of my most vivid memories were chopping thistles in the pasture after school and watering Daddy’s trees,” Deas said. “He planted these trees in the fields and probably wanted to save money on a hose, so he had us carry buckets of water to those trees after school.”
Even after she left Tupelo for Mississippi State College for Women in Columbus, now known as Mississippi University for Women, Deas returned each summer to work for her father, after whom she was named.
Her father, Lawrence Doyce “L.D.” Hancock, launched the multimillion-dollar Hancock Textile Co., from his small Tupelo headquarters. It later became Hancock Fabrics and was one of the country’s largest retail fabric chains.
Hancock, who was one of nine children and had never attended college, became very rich.
Despite his wealth, Hancock’s four children weren’t spoiled. But many people don’t know that, and Deas said she sometimes battles the image of rich kid in her campaign for mayor.
The campaign emphasizes fairness and equality, as well as support for small businesses and better use of taxpayer money.
“I wasn’t born with a silver spoon,” Deas said. “I grew up knowing how to work. I’ve worked my whole life.”
Born in December 1944 to L.D. and Elaine Hancock, Deas said she has spent her life trying to make the world a better place. But she never imagined she’d do it in Tupelo. After graduating high school, the candidate went first to MSCW and earned her degree at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
Deas said she always envisioned herself working in New York and attending the symphony most weekends. The accomplished pianist and art lover wanted a metropolitan lifestyle with easy access to world culture.
But those plans disappeared when Deas met a young employee at her father’s company while home one Christmas break. After dating, she and Bill Deas married and permanently located in Tupelo.
“And since I was going to be living in Tupelo,” Deas said, “I decided I wanted to make it the best place it could be.”
While the couple raised three children – Melanie, Lawrence and Meredith – Deas immersed herself in their upbringing while staying active in the community. She wanted Tupelo to have the amenities she’d always dreamed of: the symphony and the arts, good education and community spirit.
So she volunteered to every cause where she could make a difference. Deas either currently serves or has served on about two dozen boards, committees and associations, including the Tupelo Corps Salvation Army, Tupelo Symphony Orchestra, CREATE and Mississippi Center for Non-Profits.
She also got involved in education through her appointment to the Tupelo Public School Board of Trustees. She stayed on the board 15 years.
“I had always been a proponent of education, but I really got passionate after that,” Deas said. “Serving on the school board was one of the most important things I’ve done in my life. It was a real eye-opener.”
Deas said she saw a need for more academic intervention and special services for students who fell through the cracks. So when she left the school board in 1991, Deas opened the Learning Skills Center.
The nonprofit agency has helped teach roughly 4,000 children and adults reading, math and language since it began.
Deas also launched the Link Centre inside the former Harrisburg Baptist Church building on West Main Street. The organization provides low-cost space to nonprofit agencies, educational program and the arts. Deas stepped down from the centre’s board when her daughter, Melanie, became its director.
But she quickly found another role. In 2005, Deas became an at-large City Council member. She does this in addition to running the Learning Skills Center and juggling her board commitments.
“I don’t get a lot of rest,” Deas joked. “But I like to stay busy. I like to dream big. If you dream big and take calculated risks, you can accomplish anything.”
Deas said she’ll apply the same philosophy to the role of mayor. The candidate said Tupelo has potential for greatness that hasn’t been adequately tapped. She wants to tap it.
“I see being mayor as just a continuation of what I’ve been doing my whole life,” Deas said. “This would just be tying all the pieces together for the greatest good.”
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal