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Recent deaths make heart heavy

didn’t have the opportunity to know Jesse Phillips like so many in Oxford and all over Mississippi. And that saddens me. By all accounts Mr. Phillips was quite a man who loved God, his family and his community and had a passion for all of them.

The reaction to his death speaks volumes to the type of person he was. The overflowing crowd that came to say goodbye and support the Phillips family at First Baptist Church on Wednesday only solidifies the impact he had on the lives of so many.

While I didn’t know Jesse Phillips, I knew of him through my years of being a newspaperman in Mississippi. The impact and influence he and his family had on the field of journalism in this state is immeasurable and his influence in making Lafayette County a progressive community economically and racially is second to none.

His son Dan had just as much impact on journalism in the state before his death in 2005 and his other son Tim is carrying on that tradition as the publisher of The EAGLE.

I didn’t know Dan or Mr. Phillips, but feel blessed to have had the chance to know Tim since arriving in Oxford less than a year ago and consider him a true friend, as well as my boss.

No, I didn’t know Jesse Phillips, but I also didn’t know Dr. Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln or Ronald Reagan — pioneers and visionaries who worked, like Mr. Phillips, to make this world a better place.

I did know Dee Andrews and although her influence was not as well-known, her impact was just as noteworthy.

Like Mr. Phillips, Dee was a small-town journalist in Mississippi before going back to school and earning a law degree from Tulane University.

I got to know Dee when I moved to Picayune and began working at the Picayune Item. Her husband Tom was the advertising director of the newspaper at the time. Tom and I became great friends and have shared so many life experiences since we first met in 1990, from weddings, to childbirths to unexpected deaths. Tom and Dee have been there with me and I with them.

Soon after I moved to Picayune, Tom and Dee invited me into their home and it wasn’t long before Dee became a friend and confidant as well to me.

Tom eventually became the publisher of the Item and later the president of the Mississippi Press Association. All along, Dee was there with him. I owe my knowledge of the newspaper business, as well as many life experiences, to Tom. I have often contacted him for advice when life has thrown me a curveball and Dee has always been the encouraging and uplifting person when life got too rough.

We remained close friends even after I left Picayune in 2005. In fact, I last saw Dee and Tom during our fantasy football draft in August that was held at their home. We’ve had the league since 1992 and have developed some amazing friendships through the league. We even celebrated the lives of two of the founding members of the league — Frank and Judy Gaupp — who passed away last year. It was a sad occasion.

Dee, like so many other close friends recently from my days in Picayune, passed away suddenly a few days ago. Her untimely death hit close to home.

While my heart is heavy for Tim and his family, as well as my mentor Tom, I also know they will be joined again some day by the loved ones they’ve lost.

Rob Sigler is managing editor of The Oxford EAGLE. Contact him at rob.sigler@oxfordeagle.com.