By EVERLYN JOHNSON
For Starkville Daily News
A community-wide tribute for the Late Dr. Douglas L. Conner was held last month at Second Baptist (SBC), his home church.
Rev. Joseph Stone, pastor of Second Baptist, welcomed the crowd and shared the goals of the tribute:
u To share the life and great works of this untiring leader
u To generate funds that will place a book about his life in every school and public city library in Oktibbeha County.
“The first goal was achieved through the tribute gathering held last month and we had a great crowd” according to Everlyn Johnson and Dorothy Isaac who co-chaired the program. The second goal was to generate funds through an offering. The funds were used to purchase of 31 books that were hand delivered to every school and city library in Oktibbeha County according to Johnson. “All but one delivery was completed on Friday,” Johnson and Isaac said. The County Quad School will receive its book once the staff is all moved and settled into their new location.
Dr. John Marszalek, who co-authored with Dr. Conner the book entitled A Black Physician’s Story: Giving Hope to Mississippi was the keynote speaker. He said that “The Conner story is definitely one for the history books when they are written about Starkville, Mississippi State University, and The State of Mississippi.” Because of his work, voting rights were extended to blacks; school integration was improved; and the area’s economic system was made better. Dr. Conner had a busy medical practice, but he continued to hold up hold up the light to justice. Marszalek also said that after Mississippi State admitted its first minority student, who was Dr. Richard Holmes - a Dr. and Mrs. Conner adoptee, it grew to hold the largest minority enrollment of any Land Grant institution in the nation.
Church members Ms. Freddie Norwood and Arthur Goliday shared with the crowd their own renditions of “America” and “My Tribute” respectfully . Carole McReynolds Davis brought a portrait she had painted of Dr. Conner during the mid 1990s. It was displayed throughout the program. Dorothy Jean Isaac served as Mistress of Ceremonies.
A seven-member panel made up of people who were associates or relatives to Dr. Conner was moderated by William “Brother” Rogers from the Stennis Institute for Public Service. he said the panel will share stories involving the medical, political and social legacy of Dr Conner’s life.
Dr. Steve Parvin, a fellow physician was the first panelist to speak and he spoke a child with a fatal defect and that many of their associates were convinced that there was no hope. Under Dr. Conner’s care the child lived. Parvin said “he would always go the extra mile and his was a calling and not just a job.” He concluded his comments by saying “ although we have had many physicians to move to Starkville, there will never be another Dr. Conner.”
Wilson Ashford, a local businessman, shared that his service as the first minority on the local school board and on the race relations committee was due to Dr. Conner.
Ms. Annie Harris served for forty-three years as receptionist. Her duties included processing payroll, making appointments, keeping books for the clinic. She spoke of his gentle personality. She said “ he never turned anybody down when they could not pay. He often accepted greens, chickens, and other items for payment.”
Dr. Fenton Peters, a retired education administrator said “Dr Conner performed well on any endeavor he undertook, whether medical or community.” He went on to say that “Dr. Conner was perhaps the greatest humanitarian he has ever worked with.”
Dr. William Ware was a member of the churches’ Deacon Board and Board of Trustees along with Dr. Conner. He shared some of Dr. Conner’s strongest traits included respecting authority and mankind. He said “Dr. Conner was a man of integrity and liberally supported the church and other worthy causes, and was a good listener.”
Mrs. Yvette Conner-Williams, daughter of the late doctor said “ her dad and mom were her role models.” She added that his employees were also her role models because they taught her clinic upkeep as well as how to take temperature and read lab results. She also spoke of some times she went with her dad on house calls.
Dr. Frank Davis referred to Dr. Conner as the “model civil rights leader.” he shared that he and wife Carole served on the city appointed race relations committee with Dr. Conner and they also worked with his on many Dr. Martin Luther King Breakfasts and marches. He ended his comments by highlighting some of the changes that would have made Dr. Conner proud. The tribute ended with a small reception for guest in the SBC fellowship hall.
Tyrone Ellis from the Mississippi House of Representatives presented a Proclamation to the church and shared that he will get several copies to family members. He shared that his becoming an elected official was directly due to Dr. Conner’s kind encouragement of him doing so.
Books on Dr. Conner’s life were distributed to every school and to every public library in the county according to Everlyn S. Johnson and by Dorothy Jean Isaac for some of the deliveries. They shared that delivering the books was a delightful experience as every single benefactor showed heartfelt appreciation for the gift from the recent tribute program. A cover-letter that accompanied the book (s) to each location, gave background information of the tribute program and project and encouragement to promote the book to students and/or clientele.
The book distribution, in order of deliveries, was as follows: Mr. Leonardo Thompson, principal at West Oktibbeha County High School (Maben); Mrs. Mary Boutwell, Director at Maben Library accepted their books; Ms. Gail Shurden, Director at Mathison City Library received their books; Mrs. Shirley Arney, School Secretary, accepted for West Oktibbeha County Elementary School in Sturgis; and the last Thursday morning delivery was to Ms. Perry Ann Kerr, Director at Sturgis City Library.
Mrs. Mary Boutwell, Director of the Maben Public Library, is shown opening her delivery of books on Dr. Conner’s life.
Thursday afternoon’s deliveries included several city and an eastern county school. Starkville Christian School’s books were received by Mrs. Randy Witbeck, wife of the director and member of the school staff; books for Emerson Family Centered School were received by Ms. Newassa House and Ms. Juana Jenkins from the library staff members; books for both Starkville High School Academy and Starkville Elementary Academy were received by Billy Wilbanks , principal of the high school. Mrs. Cherie Maynard, the Elementary Principal was out of the office.
Friday Deliveries started with Mrs. Lisa Thompson, principal of Sudduth Elementary; books for the Starkville City Library were accepted by its director, Mrs. Jenny Holtcamp; The principal at Henderson Intermediate School, Timothy Bourne was the recipient for the school; Ms. Gabrielle Mills, Assistant Principal at Ward-Stuart Elementary School accepted the books; Assistant Principals Debbie Thomas and Sean McDonnall accepted books for Starkville High; books for East Oktibbeha High School were accepted by Ms. Katherine Washington , Secretary; and the staff of Quard County Alternative School were involved in relocating to their new campus, so their books will be delivered once moving is completed, according to the project chairperson.