By Sid Salter
Fresh from beginning 2011 in the wild celebration that culminated Mississippi State University’s dismantling of the Michigan Wolverines in the Gator Bowl, MSU President Mark Keenum now faces a very different kind of celebrity.
Keenum will be “roasted” by the state press association during a charitable benefit Jan. 20 at the Marriott Hotel in Jackson.
The energetic Keenum – a former chief of staff to U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran before assuming the leadership of MSU – will be the main course during the 21st anniversary Mississippi Press Association Education Foundation Celebrity Roast. The event is held annually to raise funds to underwrite internships for aspiring journalists and grants for journalism education at Mississippi universities.
Other honorees during the three-decade history of the MPA roast have included Cochran, former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, Gov. Haley Barbour, Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, former Mississippi Power CEO Anthony Topazi, the late U.S. Rep. Sonny Montgomery, former Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Reuben Anderson, journalists W.C. Shoemaker and Bill Minor, the late Choctaw Chief Phillip Martin and the late entertainer Jerry Clower.
While Keenum’s quiet, reserved demeanor might suggest a quiet and reserved evening, don’t bet on it.
“Roasters” include: Ole Miss Chancellor Dr. Dan Jones; Entergy president and CEO Haley Fisackerly; State Senate Appropriations Committee chairman Sen. Doug Davis, R-Hernando; 3rd District U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper, R-Pearl; and former Bush White House staff member and MSU First Lady Rhonda Keenum.
Keenum became Mississippi State’s 19th president in 2009, following a distinguished career on Capitol Hill.
He joined Cochran’s staff in 1989 as legislative assistant for Agriculture and Natural Resources. From 1996-2006, he served as Cochran’s chief of staff. Keenum also served as Under Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 2006-2008.
Keenum earned his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in Agricultural Economics from MSU. While the notion of an Ole Miss chancellor getting a shot at “roasting” a MSU president may sell tickets, friends of Keenum know the heavy artillery is far more likely to come from his bride.
While only two years into the job, Keenum has led MSU to a period of growth and expansion not seen in Starkville since the administration of former MSU President Donald W. Zacharias. Like Zacharias, Keenum has fostered a strong sense of unity and common purpose. Keenum describes himself as “a lifelong Bulldog” and the Bulldog Nation – long split into warring alumni factions – seems to have found a new and stable solidarity. As a couple with four young children, the Keenums have brought a new energy to the university that has been contagious.
Keenum will be the third roastee to receive the S. Gale Denley Memorial Journalism Award. The MPA and MPAEF boards of directors voted in 2009 to rename the foundation award in memory of the longtime educator and publisher of The Calhoun County Journal. Denley, my beloved friend and a truly gifted journalism educator, died in 2008. The Ole Miss Student Media Center is named in his honor.
The reception begins at 6 p.m. The “roast” begins at 7 p.m. Tickets are $80 each or a table of eight is available for $600. For registration information, visit www.mspress.org or call 601-981-3060.
Rebels, Golden Eagles, etc., are more than welcome to attend.
Contact syndicated columnist Sid Salter at (601) 961-7084 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.