NEW ALBANY – Mississippi Highway Patrol’s district office is just up the road from where Union County’s Relay for Life is held each year, but the two never connected until this year.
“People always think about us as fighting crime, but this year we wanted to fight something else: cancer,” said Trooper Ray Hall, the public information officer.
The inspiration for their involvement is the family of Trooper Casey Mayo.
Mayo’s wife, Heather, was diagnosed with brain cancer in January 2009. An Alcorn County schoolteacher, she survived extensive treatments for about two years before dying this past year at age 29. She leaves her husband and their daughter, Kalee, now 4.
The story of a young teacher dying tragically, leaving a husband and small daughter, of course, resonates in New Albany. And the family received a lot of support from her co-workers and the community. But the example Mayo set meant something special to his fellow law enforcement officers.
“He never complained,” said Michelle Thompson, who is credited with pulling the MHP team effort together. “They made trip after trip to Texas (for treatment) but he never complained and just kept on writing his tickets and working wrecks.”
Hall said no one is sure where the idea for a Relay for Life team came from. “It just sort of happened,” he said. But, once started, it gained momentum.
The team sold T-shirts, collected donations, fined troopers dollar amounts based on their boot sizes and, of course, had a team site at the Relay, still raising money through shirt sales and also displaying new vehicles and their mobile Intoxilyzer unit. Ultimately, they raised almost $4,000.
Although the Relay for Life is a Union County event, the MHP team had members and families from the nine counties in District 4. With about 40 enforcement officers, driver’s license staff and dispatchers, plus family members, it made for a considerable crowd.
Heather Mayo died Dec. 17, 2011, but her memory will live through the efforts of the MHP Relay for Life team. Mayo said they definitely plan to have a team every year.
“Too often, news about the Highway Patrol is associated with negative things, like accidents and crimes. We want to continue to do something that is positive and will benefit the community,” Hall said.
Organizers were still totaling up money raised by the various teams and the event overall Friday night but if every team was as successful as the Highway Patrol team, the Union County Relay for Life will exceed its goal of $92,000. The Union County relay is considered to be one of the top cancer fundraisers in Mississippi.