“I grew up on a rural farm in the hills of Mississippi. We were a one-store community located about 15 miles outside of Duck Hill. I graduated from Duck Hill High School with 18 people in my class. My dad farmed the land that was originally owned by my grandfather. He also worked in a factory in Grenada to make a living. My family lived at the original homeplace. Every Sunday my aunts, uncles and cousins came over for Sunday lunch. The hill would be covered with horseback riders and people eating watermelon and ice cream. I look back and realize it was a charmed life and a Mayberry existence.
My mother was a wonderful cook. She made country ham and homemade rolls every Sunday. She started cooking four days before the company was coming. Women were taught that we were supposed to be nurturers and want to cook for the family. That wasn’t me. I had no desire to be the cook or the homemaker my mother was. I was a reader and wanted a career.
I married Bill Tabb when I was young. I went to Delta State and majored in elementary education. Growing up in the country, I didn’t know that I had other options besides being a teacher or a nurse. I would have gone to law school, but that world wasn’t open to me yet. I taught at an elementary school but became the principal of the Presbyterian Day School at age 27. I was there for 13 years and rebuilt the school while I raised my kids. The job was demanding. Fortunately, I married a secure man who supported my career and was a wonderful cook. He made dinner and I cleaned the dishes.
I left the school to work on my doctorate. I wasn’t sure what the next steps in my career would be. The pieces of the quilt are put in place as you live them. You don’t know what the quilt looks like until you look back.
I worked for the University of North Carolina from an office at Delta State. Then I became the director of Delta State’s Center for Community and Economic Development. We ran millions of dollars worth of grants through the center. I became the Associate Vice President for Finance and Administration at Delta State and helped solve problems with the Bologna Performing Arts Center. I was a generalist and worked in many different areas during my career. Buy I always loved working through conflict and getting the voices at the table to work together.
I was more involved emotionally and spiritually in what I was working on than keeping a clean house. My mother never understood me making a career as important as it was. But there’s something that comes from knowing that you are contributing to society. It feeds your soul.
Men have always known that their careers were important. It’s acceptable for them to miss things in the family because of work. Balancing a career with family responsibilities is much more difficult for women. There seems to be more of an understanding of it now. When I started, a woman could have a job but having a career was a different thing. We were the pioneers. I’ve tried to help younger women through what I learned the hard way. I’m proud of watching my daughter and daughter-in-law in their careers. They are good mothers and successful women.
I retired five years ago because Bill got sick and I wanted to be with him. He died in 2019. We were married 51 years and had a marriage that worked well for both of us. He had his own career farming and served the community in many ways. I wouldn’t change any of it. This is Bill’s dog. I promised to take good care of him.
I’m retired, but I’m on a lot of boards, including the Beautification Commission for downtown Cleveland and The Delta Health Alliance. I’ve spent a lot of time on the Cleveland Music Foundation Board that oversees the Grammy Museum in Cleveland and the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area boards. We worked hard to get the Delta recognized by the National Park Service. If you’ve been blessed, you have to give back.
When I first moved to the Delta, I didn’t like it. I thought one day we’d go back to the hills. But there’s a mystique to the Delta and it grows on you. It’s a region of contradictions. It’s a collection of writers, musicians and creatives. But it also has high illiteracy rates and poor health care. I still want to help change that.
People in the Delta are family. We are connected to the flat land with its sunrises and sunsets. It almost becomes a person that speaks to you. I love to visit other cities and countries, but I never want to live anywhere else.”