Bob W. Pittman, 88, of Jackson, died Sunday, August 2, 2020, at Beau Ridge Memory Care in Ridgeland.
A celebration of life will be held on Thursday, August 6, 2020, at 11:30 a.m. in the sanctuary at First Baptist Church in Jackson following all social distancing guidelines. Masks will be required. A private family interment will be held on Wednesday, August 5 at Parkway Memorial Cemetery in Ridgeland.
One of the leading voices for conservative government in the State of Mississippi, Pittman served as President and CEO of the Mississippi Economic Council (MEC) for 32 years. He was a leader who dedicated his life’s work to strengthening the education system, improving county government, and developing legislation to create a robust business climate. As a young 33-year-old, Pittman was hand-selected by M.B. Swayze, founder of MEC, as his successor as President and CEO to carry on the mission of the organization.
As a strong leader, Pittman believed that leadership should be nurtured in others. It was his vision to train leaders throughout the state that led him to create the J.C. and Annie Redd Leadership Mississippi program, the second oldest leadership program in the nation. Leadership Mississippi was developed to connect emerging leaders in and around the state and has done so for over four decades. Mississippi’s top business executives, community leaders, and even a former Governor have participated in Leadership Mississippi. It remains strong and will celebrate 45 years this year.
In 2012 MEC honored Pittman for his years of service with the creation of the Bob W. Pittman Leadership Mississippi Media Scholarship.
Pittman also believed in the value of a solid education. While at MEC he founded the STAR (Student Teacher Achievement Recognition) program. Through this program, thousands of Mississippi graduates and their teachers have been recognized for outstanding achievement.
Pittman’s accomplishments while at MEC included changing the selection process for the office of the State Superintendent of Education from an elected to an appointed official, adoption of the county unit system, tort reforms, and separating the offices of sheriff and tax collector among others. He worked with business leaders from across the state to further good legislation in Mississippi.
Pittman’s love of economic development began as a young journalist traveling the state. Throughout his years of covering the legislature and writing about events of the state for the State Times and later the Jackson Daily News, Pittman had interacted with MEC and believed it made a profound impact on the State of Mississippi. He worked tirelessly as a young journalist to capture the history of the state he loved so dearly.
Pittman was born April 25, 1932, to Mr. and Mrs. James C. Pittman of Hattiesburg where he grew up enjoying sports, church activities and developed a love of writing.
He began “burning the midnight oil” as a young boy when he would diligently work after the household had gone to bed on his newspaper “Bobby’s Blab” for the neighborhood children. He handwrote copies of the newspaper and delivered them to the neighborhood to update his friends – who were visiting from out of town, who had lost a tooth, whose family had gotten a new pet – on the latest happenings. He recognized a good news story from an early age.
He attended Camp School in Hattiesburg and went on to Hattiesburg High School where he sharpened his talent on first base for the Hattiesburg Tigers. He played alongside his older brother Jimmy in baseball, basketball, and football. As the time came for him to enter his senior year of high school, his parents had made the decision to move the family to the small town of Greenwood in the Mississippi Delta.
A new student in a new school, he was quickly recognized for his friendly demeanor, strong leadership, and overall kind spirit. Those qualities are what prompted the students at Greenwood High School to elect their new friend as president of the senior class. He was also selected to attend Boys State that year, but, ironically like today’s COVID pandemic, Boys State was canceled due to the polio epidemic.
Throughout high school, he worked the night shift at the Greenwood Morning Star where he covered sports and later moved to writing news.
During that year he led the Greenwood High School baseball team to victory, with younger brother Mippy at his side, when they claimed the State Championship title – a feat of which he was particularly proud.
It was at Greenwood High School where he met his bride-to-be Joanne Barrett.
After graduation from high school in 1950, he attended Mississippi College where he further grew in his editorial talents. He served as editor of the school’s newspaper, The Collegian. He also served as captain of the Mississippi College Choctaw baseball team on which he played with both of his brothers.
Word of his talents on the baseball field quickly spread and Bobby was approached by a New York Yankees baseball scout. The scout was waiting for him in his dorm room after practice one afternoon.
“How’d ya like to be a Yankee?” was the question he was asked as a young man. Bobby would often regale the story of that encounter, but then explain that it was more important for him to finish school, and besides that, it wasn’t his beloved Cincinnati Reds who made the offer, he’d smile and say.
He graduated from Mississippi College in 1954 with a B.S. degree in education, and he, along with his siblings, Jimmy, Jean, and Mippy, in 2000 received the Order of the Golden Arrow alumna award – the first time the award was presented to an entire sibling group.
After college he entered the United States Army in 1954 where he served for two years at Fort Lee, Virginia. During his time at Fort Lee he worked as editor of the Post Newspaper.
While at Fort Lee Bobby and Joanne were married and the next year had a daughter, Beverly Dianne. The young family moved to Jackson, Mississippi and Bobby went to work as a political writer for the Jackson Daily News. It was in his role covering the events at the state capitol during the late 1950’s that he got his first taste of politics in Mississippi. During this time the couple welcomed a son, Bobby W. Pittman, Jr. to their family and Bobby entered law school at Jackson School of Law (later Mississippi College School of Law) where he graduated in 1960.
Bobby went to work as State Editor of the State Times in Jackson. He traveled across the state reporting political news and connecting with people throughout Mississippi. His travels led the family back to Greenwood when he accepted the position of Director of the Greenwood Leflore Industrial Board. In this role he was instrumental in bringing businesses such as Baldwin Piano, National Picture Frame Company, and others to the Mississippi Delta.
He was named “Leflore County Outstanding Young Man of the Year” for his work in economic development.
Throughout his life he always returned to the pen. He authored numerous books, primarily biographies of community leaders such as businessman J.C. Redd (founder of Redd Pest Control); Dr. Frank Pollard (former pastor of First Baptist Church of Jackson); Bobby Chain (founder of Chain Electric Company in Hattiesburg); Dr. Dick Field (a rural Mississippi physician); and Col. George Hall (Hattiesburg resident and former Prisoner of War). His first book, At Home in America, was the story of the Col. Nguyen family who fled communist Vietnam and with Pittman’s assistance began a new life in Jackson.
Upon his retirement from MEC in 1998, he founded The Lamar Times weekly newspaper in Hattiesburg. He mentored many young men in the office who have since gone on to find their own career paths, but the one on whom he had the most impact was his granddaughter Joanna who worked alongside him. They shared a special bond when they’d get “on a story” and stay up until all hours of the night getting the paper to press.
Bob was a strong Christian leading his family, his community and members of his church. Throughout his life he taught Sunday School to young men and young adults and mentored countless young people as they began their life’s journey. He was a member of First Baptist Church of Jackson where he was a lifetime deacon and served in many leadership roles in the church. He faithfully taught the Chapel Bible Class for over 30 years ministering to its members with wife Joanne at his side.
His sweet spirit and gentle heart stayed with him throughout the years he lived with dementia. Recognizing that, the staff at Beau Ridge Memory Care selected him as “Mr. Beau Ridge” in February 2018.
He was preceded in death by his parents Mr. and Mrs. James C. Pittman; his wife of 58 years Joanne Barrett Pittman; a daughter Emily Suzanne Pittman; a son Bob W. Pittman, Jr.; a brother James C. Pittman, Jr.; and a granddaughter Holly Dianne Holbert.
Survivors include his daughter Dianne Pittman Holbert and her husband John of Madison; three granddaughters Joanna Holbert of Brandon, Sydney Margaret Holbert of Brandon, and Elizabeth Holbert Jonson and husband Adam of Alexandria, LA; grandson Bob Pittman, III; three great-grandchildren Holly Elizabeth Jonson, Anne Margaret Jonson, and William Calhoun Jonson all of Alexandria, LA; two sisters, Jean Pittman Williams and husband Kelley of Jackson and Charlotte Pittman Bledsoe and husband Randy of Clinton; one brother Milton Pittman of Arlington, TX; a sister-in-law Lillian Pittman of Dallas, TX (formerly of Hattiesburg); and a number of nieces and nephews.
The family of Bob W. Pittman wishes to thank the staff of Beau Ridge Memory Care in Ridgeland for the love and special care of our father and grandfather.
Memorials may be made to the Mississippi Economic Council’s M.B. Swayze Foundation/Bob W. Pittman Media Scholarship P.O. Box 23276 Jackson, MS 39215.