Fifteen distinguished alumni of Hattiesburg’s city schools will be inducted into the 2019 Hattiesburg Hall of Fame by the Hattiesburg Public School District Foundation.
Inductees for the 2019 Class, the second-ever announced, come from fields of business, politics, education, healthcare, journalism, and sports.
“These individuals are unique in their accomplishments but reveal a common theme of the excellence that has evolved from Hattiesburg, Rowan, Eureka, and Royal Street high schools,” said Hugh Bolton, a member of the Hall of Fame Steering Committee. “I encourage our community to embrace and acknowledge these worthy individuals and their accomplishments.”
The Foundation’s Hall of Fame Steering Committee, with help from Primary Publicity Partner The PineBelt News, gathered nominations from the community. This year alumni and community members were also able to nominate via the online public engagement vehicle at HattiesburgHOF.com. The public is encouraged to nominate school alumni through this online opportunity.
The HPSD Foundation hosts the Hall of Fame gala as a scholarship benefit, with proceeds going to students and staff of Hattiesburg Public School District. Funds generated by the event are earmarked for student scholarships, teacher grants, and early childhood education readiness.
The event will be staged on Thursday, October 24, at Eureka School Civil Rights Museum, which has recently been restored to historical accuracy by the Hattiesburg Convention Commission. The black-tie dinner and reception are ticketed events but the public will have an opportunity to meet the Class of 2019 when they are presented pregame during homecoming activities at D.I. Patrick Stadium on Friday, October 25.
A Thursday downtown Hattiesburg luncheon and a meet-the-students Friday morning brunch at central office are also planned during the two-day event.
“The number of worthy graduates seems to be inexhaustible and others will certainly be recognized in future classes,” said Jerome Brown, president of the HPSD Foundation.
Dan Kibodeaux, executive director of the HPSD Foundation, said while the spotlight will be on Hall of Fame inductees, “our hope is that the current Hattiesburg High School student body will notice the success of these graduates.”
Retired educator and Event Chair Michael Marks acknowledges the Hall of Fame’s mission.
“We are excited to join Hattiesburg Public Schools in their effort to reclaim alumni who typify national standards of excellence,” Marks said.
Business patrons and alumni who would like to become official sponsors for the scholarship gala should go online to HattiesburgHOF.com or request more information at HattiesburgHOF@gmail. com.
CLASS of 2019
1. LT. COL. RAYLAWNI BRANCH (RET.)
Branch (Rowan High, 1959) was a pioneer in the Civil Rights movement who also made an impact in nursing and the military.
As a Rowan student, Branch competed in track and was a member of Tri-Hi-Y, all while working seven days a week as she was the oldest of 10 children.
Branch was one of the first two African-American students, along with Gwendolyn Elaine Armstrong, to enroll at the University of Southern Mississippi in 1965.
She also was involved as secretary of the local chapter of the NAACP, helped in voter registration, was a member of the Council for Federated Organizations, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Branch spent 25 years in the U.S. Air Force and retired as a lieutenant colonel. She was commissioned first lieutenant in the Air Force by President Gerald Ford. She was on flying status and was a chief nurse and operating room director.
Branch also served as a registered nurse in Hattiesburg and was instrumental in establishing training for Red Cross volunteers. She is certified in special care, recovery room, in-patient and out-patient operating room and blood banking.
2. CHARLES J. BROWN
Charles J. Brown (Rowan High, 1958) is a Hattiesburg resident known nationally for his valor in the Vietnam Conflict, as he was featured in The History Channel’s documentary “Vietnam in HD.”
Brown, who was senior class president at Rowan, joined the U.S. Army after high school. He began his Army career with the 101st Airborne Division and later served in the 173rd Airborne Brigade.
Brown fought in the battle of Dak To in 1967 and risked his life to rescue wounded soldiers during the battle. For his valor, he was awarded two Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart for his leadership role and courage.
In 1994, he was honored as Hattiesburg's first Veteran of the Year. Following his military career, Brown went to William Carey University, graduating in 1973.
Brown worked for the Mississippi Employment Security Commission for 27 years and was Counselor of the Year twice.
Brown was one of the original commissioners in 1991 to serve on the Hattiesburg Convention Commission, and in 2011 was awarded the Paul Harris Fellowship Award as the Hattiesburg Rotary International Non-Rotarian of the Year.
3. DR. RICHARD CLARK
Dr. Richard Clark (Hattiesburg High, 1947) is an esteemed surgeon who collaborated with others in the opening of Hattiesburg Clinic, later serving as its second president.
Dr. Clark also was instrumental in the formation of the Southeast Mississippi Air Ambulance District in 1971, and served it for 25 years as president of the Board of Directors and off-line medical director. He joined Forrest General and Methodist Hospital’s medical staffs in 1961, with particular interest in thoracic and vascular surgery.
Dr. Clark has served as medical director and president of the Board of Directors at Hattiesburg Clinic.
He was active in Boy Scouts, making Eagle Scout. At Hattiesburg High he played football, basketball, ran track and was in the Hi-Y, Science club and was in the junior play. He attended Boys State.
Dr. Clark also served as captain and chief of Surgical Service in the U.S. Air Force and is in the Forrest General Hospital Foundation Doctors Hall of Fame. He earned the Hub Award and was on the Board of Directors of Bancorp South Bank, the Area Development Partnership, the USM Foundation, the Greater Pine Belt Community Foundation and others.
4. JANET GURWITCH
Janet L. Gurwitch (Hattiesburg High, 1970) is the founder and former CEO of Laura Mercier Cosmetics & Skincare, a global brand of high-end niche cosmetics. She is also an operating partner of Castanea, a private equity firm with focus on the beauty consumer space.
Prior to founding Laura Mercier, which she sold in 2008, Gurwitch was the executive vice president of Neiman Marcus, where she established the merchandising strategy from 1992-95.
Today, Gurwitch is an investor in and on the boards of Drybar and Tatcha. She formerly served on the boards of Dollar Shave Club, Urban Decay Cosmetics and First Aid Beauty.
In 1999, she was named a finalist for Ernst & Young’s “Entrepreneur of the Year Award” for Houston. In 1994, Business Week included her as one of the “Top 50 Chief Executive Prospects in the Nation.”
Gurwitch’s personal community involvement includes supporting the Menil Collection, Houston Symphony, Houston Grand Opera and Hermann Park Conservancy. She is also an investor in and on the Board of Directors of the Houston Astros baseball team.
At Hattiesburg High, Gurwitch was on the Student Council and was in the Sock & Buskin Club and the Purple and Gold Revue.
5. DR. EDDIE A. HOLLOWAY
Dr. Eddie A. Holloway (Rowan High, 1970) has made a tremendous impact in his life, serving 40 years as an administrator at the University of Southern Mississippi and 16 years as a Hattiesburg city councilman.
The first African-American assistant vice president for student affairs and dean of students at Southern Miss, Holloway retired from USM this year.
A lifelong resident of Hattiesburg, Holloway earned four college degrees, including a doctorate in educational administration. He is a 2004 inductee of the Southern Miss Alumni Association Hall of Fame and served as dean of students, assistant vice president for student affairs, counselor and instructor/assistant professor of psychology, assistant dean of students and interim dean of students.
Holloway was the first elected African-American member of the Hattiesburg City Council, serving from 1985 to 2000, and during that time served as council president and vice president. He also was a charter member of the Hattiesburg Public School District Foundation.
Holloway is a member of the Mississippi Civil Rights Commission and the Area Development Partnership.
At Rowan, he was active in band, drama and the student council.
6. STEVE KNIGHT
Steve Knight (Hattiesburg High, 1975) is the record-setting basketball coach at William Carey University.
Knight was named All-Big 8 Conference and All-State in basketball at Hattiesburg High and started on the 1974 state basketball championship team.
He played basketball and baseball at Southern Miss and spent two seasons pitching in the Seattle Mariners organization.
At 25, Knight became the Carey men’s basketball coach and became the all-time winningest basketball coach for four-year colleges in Mississippi history in 2010. His overall record in 37 seasons is 705-479. Last season, Carey advanced to the NAIA Final Four.
His team in 2013-14 went 28-3, 18-0 in the conference, and Knight was named the NAIA Men’s Basketball National Coach of the Year.
His Carey teams have won 20 or more games 20 times, have won 13 conference or district championships and have advanced to national tournaments 13 seasons. He has been named the conference Coach of the Year 11 times.
While athletic director, Knight increased Carey from five sports teams to 17.
Knight is the only person with Carey ties in the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame.
7. DR. LYNN MCMAHAN
Dr. Lynn McMahan (Hattiesburg High, 1964), a former Hattiesburg High Tiger football player, served as chief resident in Ophthalmology at the University of Alabama and later founded the world-class Southern Eye Center in Hattiesburg.
Dr. McMahan, who is now retired, has lectured on four continents and published more than 60 articles in national publications. Serving on the National Council of the American Board of Ophthalmology, he received the Distinguished Service Award and has served on boards of the Society for Excellence in Eye and the Outpatient Ophthalmic Surgery Society.
Dr. McMahan, a glaucoma specialist, founded Gift of Sight, a program dedicated to providing eye care procedures to underprivileged individuals, and was awarded the Mississippi Governor’s Give Award and a citation from the Mississippi House of Representatives for his charitable work.
Dr. McMahan received a Distinguished Citizen Award from the Boy Scouts of America, has been named as one of the Best Doctors in America and has been a benefactor to numerous schools, clubs, and groups in the Pine Belt community through the McMahan Family Charitable Foundation.
At Hattiesburg High School, McMahan was a member of the prestigious Key Club.
8. CARLTON D. “CORKY” PALMER
Carlton D. “Corky” Palmer (Hattiesburg High, 1972) coached baseball.
After playing catcher at Hattiesburg High and the University of Southern Mississippi, Palmer became a coach, starting in high school at Newton, going to Columbus and Columbia, moving on to Meridian Community College and finally taking charge of the University of Southern Mississippi baseball program.
His overall 32-year career coaching record in high school, community college and Division I college was 946-493. He coached USM to its only berth in the College World Series in 2009. That team finished the season ranked No. 8 in the country, the highest USM has ever finished.
His teams won numerous championships and he coached Southern Miss to eight NCAA Tournament appearances, including seven in a row. In 2003, Palmer was named the Conference USA Coach of the Year. He also served on the coaching staff of a team of U.S. all-stars that played in Tokyo in 1996.
Palmer, now retired, also is in the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, the University of Southern Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and the USM Alumni Association Hall of Fame.
9. ORA LEE SHAHEED
Ora Lee Shaheed (Rowan High, 1969), secretary of her senior class at Rowan High School, began working at Forrest General Hospital as a nurse in 1975. During her 44 years at the Hattiesburg hospital, she became vice president/chief nursing officer.
Shaheed, the only African American who was a member of the Forrest General administrative staff, was named vice president of Patient Care Services in 2002.
In 1978, Shaheed became manager of the Cardiac Unit, a department that she helped pioneer, where she was a flight nurse. In 1985, she opened and managed Forrest General’s Open Heart Surgery Unit. Shaheed was promoted to Director of Nursing in 1989.
Also a First Lieutenant in the U.S. Army National Guard, she is a board member of the Forrest General Foundation and a member of the University of Southern Mississippi Nursing Advisory Council. Rasheed won the Forrest General Spirit of Women Award in Healthcare in 2007.
At Rowan, Shaheed graduated with honors and also played on the badminton team.
She retired earlier this year.
10. RANDY SWAN
Randy Swan (Hattiesburg High, 1965) is the most recognized person in Hattiesburg television journalism history.
Swan, who was in the Debate Club at HHS, started as a DJ at age 15 for WBKH radio station and now has more than four decades of broadcast media and journalism excellence, 38 years as the news director and anchor with WDAM, five years at WABG in Greenville and now as the news director with FOX 23.
He has received numerous honors, including being inducted into the University of Southern Mississippi’s Journalism Hall of Fame in 2010, the Mississippi Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 2007 and The Associated Press Hall of Fame in 2006.
Swan appeared in 2015’s Hattiesburg High School revival of the national docudrama, The Katrina Project: Hell and High Water.
Swan serves as the board chair for Extra Table and is a board member for the Forrest General Healthcare Foundation and the Hattiesburg Concert Association.
11. LAWRENCE W. WARREN
Lawrence W. Warren (Hattiesburg High, 1959) is president and CEO of Warren Paving Inc. of Hattiesburg and Gulfport and The Slats Lucas Quarry of Kentucky.
Warren has held key positions in the National Asphalt Pavement Association, the Mississippi Asphalt Pavement Association, the Association of General Contractors and the Mississippi Road Builders Association.
Warren has served on the boards of the Pine Belt Boys and Girls Club, the Pearl River Valley Electric Power Association, the Mississippi Gulf Coast Economic Development Council and Trustmark National Bank.
His civic involvement has also taken him to serve the Salvation Army Board of Directors and the Forrest County Industrial Park Commission Board. He was inducted into the Mississippi Business Hall of Fame in 2004.
Warren has received the ADP Chairman’s Award for Excellence, was named Volunteer of the Year by the Mississippi Economic Development Council and received the Distinguished Service Award from the Pine Burr Council of the Boy Scouts of America. He also has been given the “Friend” of the University of Southern Mississippi Award — being a board member of the University Foundation and Athletic Foundation and one of the organizing members of the Circle of Champions — and has received numerous other honors.
12. PERCY WATSON
Percy Watson (Rowan High, 1969) is an attorney in Hattiesburg who also is a representative of District 103 in the Mississippi State House of Representatives.
Watson, a graduate of the University of Iowa and the Iowa College of Law, has been a representative since 1980. He is currently serving his 10th term.
In the Legislature, Watson is the vice-chairman of the Ethics Committee and also is a member of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee and the Appropriations Committees. He is the former chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.
Watson also studied at the University of Southern Mississippi and William Carey University.
Watson also is a member of the Alaska Bar Association, the American Bar Association, the American Judicature Association, the Hattiesburg Chamber of Commerce, the Iowa Bar Association, the Jesse Brown Lodge, the Mississippi Bar Association, Mississippi Legal Services, the Mississippi Trial Lawyers Association the NAACP, the National Bar Association and Phi Beta Kappa.
Other civic and community involvement for the former Student Body President and Honor Society member at Rowan High School include Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Regions Bank Advisory Board and chairman of the board of Deacons at Ebenezer Baptist Church.
13. PEGGY JEAN GOULD CONNOR
Peggy Jean Gould Connor (Oct. 29, 1932—Jan. 13, 2018) (Eureka High, 1950) was the owner of a beauty shop on Mobile Street in 1962 when she became a pioneer in the Civil Rights struggle.
First, she became a citizenship teacher, helping students in registering to vote and teaching them how to understand, interpret and apply the Constitution.
In 1964, Connor helped found the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, a political party that would be open to all, regardless of race. Connor was named chairperson of the “library precinct” in Hattiesburg, and eventually became the executive secretary of the MFDP.
Connor was also one of the MFDP’s delegates to the Democratic National Convention in 1964, which resulted in a refusal to accept the two-seat compromise offered by Democratic Party leaders.
14. JACKIE DOLE SHERRILL
Jackie Dole Sherrill (March 26, 1951-Dec. 31, 1984) (Hattiesburg High, 1969) had a life full of accomplishments, particularly when it came to breaking glass ceilings in the field of law enforcement.
She was the first female to graduate from the University of Southern Mississippi’s Criminal Justice program, the first female officer to join the ranks of the Hattiesburg Police Department and was the first female promoted to sergeant and detective in the Hattiesburg Police Department.
In her spare time, Sherrill was an advocate for children and women in crisis situations. She spent time speaking to civic and women’s groups about rape and the prevention of it and she played a critical role in the establishment of the Hattiesburg Rape Crisis Center, which is known today as the Shafer Center for Crisis Intervention.
At Hattiesburg High, Sherrill was on the Red Cross Council and a member of Sock and Buskin.
Sherrill lost her life in the line of duty on Dec. 31, 1984, at the age of 33 after serving more than 10 years with the Hattiesburg Police Department. The Jackie Dole Sherrill Community Center in downtown Hattiesburg is named in her honor.
15. IOLA CRAFt WILLIAMS
Iola Craft Williams (Feb. 2, 1936-April 4, 2019) (Royal Street High, 1954) was an accomplished civic official in both Hattiesburg and San Jose, Calif.
Williams was the first African-American woman elected to the Franklin-McKlinley School Board and the first African-American woman on the City Council in San Jose, where she served for 12 years. She also served two terms as vice mayor of San Jose.
After moving back to Hattiesburg, Williams became the Director of Recreation and Community Relations for the city of Hattiesburg. Following that, she was executive director of the African-American Military History Museum in Hattiesburg. Williams was president of the EURO alumni group and was a catalyst in progress for the Sixth Street Museum District and the Eureka School Museum, as well as being a commissioner on the Hattiesburg Convention Commission from 2004 to 2013.
She helped start a local lunch program for seniors impacted by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
In 2016, she received a lifetime achievement award from the African-American Community Service Agency in San Jose. Since then, the award has been given in her name. Williams died earlier this year.