Would that more Mississippians understand the value of sincere fellowship and active listening to people with diverse backgrounds, beliefs and political world views in the way that Johnny Morgan did.
Like most Mississippians, I was deeply saddened to learn of the tragic death of Johnny Morgan of Oxford in a plane crash in Arkansas. Morgan – a larger-than-life presence personally and politically – died May 17 while piloting his twin-engine Beech King Air E-90 aircraft near Fayetteville, Ark.
He was 76, but still somehow displayed the boyish good looks that was his calling card as an Ole Miss cheerleader. His loyalty to his alma mater was deep and lifelong. From the first time I met him, Johnny was self-confident, direct, and always pressed any advantage he perceived that he possessed.
I met Johnny on an evening out in Oxford with Willie Morris and Gale Denley at Clyde Goolsby’s bar at the old Holiday Inn.
From 1983 to 1991, Morgan served two terms as a state senator from Calhoun, Lafayette and Yalobusha counties. Beginning in 2003, Morgan served two terms as a member of the Lafayette County Board of Supervisors.
With partner David White, Morgan cofounded the Oxford-based insurance company, Morgan White Insurance, in 1987. Morgan served on the North Mississippi Industrial Development Association and was affiliated with the Mississippi Board of Economic Development.
Johnny’s brother, Chip Morgan, was for 35 years the well-known leader of the influential Delta Council.
Yet despite Morgan’s career successes in retail politics and business, it was his involvement with a regional political and social event he cofounded years ago that drew the most frequent mentions from statewide public officials and local friends alike following the accident that claimed Morgan’s life.
Morgan was the unquestioned impresario of the annual Good Ole Boys and Gals, a bipartisan political and social gathering of friends, politicians, and politicos across the state held first in a primitive tractor shed and later in a larger, more substantial sheet metal covered shop on Morgan’s property off Hwy. 7 north of Oxford.
The event featured barbeque chicken plates, beverages of every stripe, fellowship and good, old-fashioned audience participation political stump speaking. It was a smaller venue than the Neshoba County Fair, but it had the same flavor.
The crowds were eclectic. Democrats, Republicans, independents gathered to break bread and talk politics with people with whom many shared little to nothing in common. Blacks, whites, men, women, college professors and diesel mechanics, sweet potato farmers and writers, all found sanctuary under the shed. Populist political speakers were welcomed most of all – not necessarily for their subject matter but for the entertainment value.
Morgan appreciated the event’s ability to bring a statewide political audience to his community and to close the gap between north Mississippi political events always being held in either DeSoto County or Tupelo. And while Jacinto Courthouse remains an A-list political event in north Mississippi, Morgan and his co-founders were successful in building a statewide brand for the “Good Ole Boys” event.
More importantly, Morgan knew that scorched earth partisanship was short-sighted and didn’t produce results that were necessarily good for the electorate.
Johnny Morgan was a Democrat while a state legislator who saw the shift coming from a once monolithically dominant Mississippi Democratic Party to a now dominant Mississippi Republican Party. Over the course of his life, Morgan saw politics at all levels changing and becoming more complex in terms of not just winning elections but actually governing.
I fondly recall attending Good Ole Boys political speakings with Gale Denley – who helped grow the event. Would that more Mississippians understand the value of sincere fellowship and active listening to people with diverse backgrounds, beliefs and political world views in the way that Johnny Morgan did.