By Lena Mitchell/NEMS Daily Journal Corinth Bureau
Corinth, Tupelo and Northeast Mississippi said goodbye in recent weeks to two men who were cornerstones in their communities: James Boyd, 87, of Corinth, on Dec.19, 2012, and Palmer Foster, 89, of Tupelo, on Jan. 7, 2013.
In the midst of this weekend of events that honor the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – with its focus on service – it’s appropriate to remember these men who lived lives that demonstrated the finest examples of character, commitment and service.
(I’m veering from the Associated Press style here, because my personal respect for and relationships with each of these gentlemen requires that I use the title “Mr.” before their names.)
From the earliest days of Easom High School in 1954, until its closing in 1969 as the high school for African American students in Alcorn County, Mr. Boyd was the award-winning band director who routinely brought home state championships.
He not only earned recognition and acclaim for his small Northeast Mississippi community, but his demand for excellence from his students brought them scholarships that allowed many to pursue their higher education goals.
Four of my brothers and two of my sisters were musicians in his marching and concert bands, and while they grumbled about having to work so hard, their respect and admiration for him always shone through.
For students who chose to stay home after high school, Mr. Boyd was a model of leadership for them to follow. He was a full participant in the life of the community – as director of the Head Start program in Alcorn, Tippah and Tishomingo counties for many years; as a certified career education counselor and assistant band director at Corinth High School after earning his master’s degree at Mississippi State University; as chairman of the Corinth Housing Authority board of directors, president of the Corinth-Alcorn Literacy Council and president of the local AARP chapter for many years; as a member of the Masonic order; as a loyal member of Mount Moriah United Methodist Church, and World War II veteran of the U.S. Navy.
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I first met Mr. Foster in 1999, when I conducted an oral history interview with him in Lee County’s pilot program for the University of Southern Mississippi’s Oral History Project.
Through the years since then I’ve had the honor and pleasure of interacting with him on several occasions and he, too, lived by core principles that so many people seem to consider optional today.
A U.S. Army veteran of World War II, Mr. Foster in 1951 became the first African-American Boy Scout professional in Mississippi as executive for the Yocona Area Boy Scout Council.
Through more than 30 years in that role he recruited countless numbers of African-American Boy Scouts through several generations in Alcorn, Prentiss, Tishomingo, Benton, Tippah, Itawamba, Lee, Marshall, Lafayette, Pontotoc, Union and Yalobusha counties, including my same four brothers who had Mr. Boyd in their lives.
Mr. Foster also was a founding board member of the community service agency LIFT, Inc.; served from 1988- 2006 on the board of the Northeast Mississippi Regional Water Supply District; was named Tupelo Citizen of the Year in 1995; and was a dedicated member and deacon of Spring Hill Missionary Baptist Church.
And for 25 years he served as a volunteer, giving comfort to people in crisis when they had need of North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo, and often spent time simply talking with hospital patients who didn’t have anyone to visit them.
Most recently he greeted visitors at the hospital’s information desk, where he spent his last day of duty three days before his passing.
Anyone with a desire to live a meaningful, purposeful and highly productive life would do well to emulate either of these gentlemen.
Lena Mitchell is the Daily Journal Corinth Bureau reporter and writes a Sunday column each month. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.