Yazoo civic leader William E. “Billy” Byrd dies
The Yazoo Herald
Lifelong Yazoo County resident, William Earl “Billy” Byrd died Dec. 28, 2012 at his home on Grand Avenue.
Byrd was born in his parents’ house at the corner of Webster and Canal streets in Yazoo City on Aug. 12, 1928. As a youth he attended Yazoo City and County Schools. In 1938 Byrd designed and built an entry in the local Soap Box Derby race conducted on Broadway Street. Billy won his division and advanced to the Mid-South Championship. He took the blue ribbon in Memphis, Tenn. and was awarded a wrist watch and a bicycle, which he claimed to wash after every ride.
During WWII, Byrd’s father bought a farm on the banks of the Walashabouge Creek off Myrleville Road. The family house was on a private dirt road, so the county school bus would not pick up the children. Byrd’s father negotiated a contract so that Billy’s older sister, Katherine could drive the bus route and park the bus at their house. However, Katherine was apprehensive about driving that size automobile and unofficially deferred to Billy. He drove the route (with his father’s blessing) beginning at age 14 until he graduated from Benton High School in 1945.
Later that summer Billy met and fell in love with Martha Jean Lee of Indianola. She had accepted a summer job working in the Yazoo City Office of the State Highway Department for Mr. Lacey Hodges. Billy and Herman Asher arranged a double date with Martha Jean and one of her girlfriends. The two men flipped a coin to see who would be paired with which girl. Martha Jean often joked that Billy “lost” the coin toss.
Byrd enrolled at Mississippi State College the following fall. He was active in the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity and was named Chapter President his senior year. While at college, Byrd played flugelhorn in the Maroon Band, worked part time in the Extension Office Mail Room and was inducted into Kappa Mu Epsilon, The American Society of Agricultural Engineers, Alpha Zeta, Blue Key and Omicron Delta Kappa. He completed the two mandatory years of military science, and then signed a contract with ROTC. He held the school record for disassembling and reassembling an M-1 rifle blindfolded. Byrd graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Agricultural Engineering and a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserve.
After college he returned home and partnered with his father to open Farmer’s Equipment Co., Inc. on Mound Street. He also transferred to the Mississippi Army National Guard and was assigned as Mortar Platoon Leader, Co. D, 155th Inf. Regt., 31st Inf. Div.
In 1951 Byrd’s unit was ordered to active duty as part of the Army’s mobilization for the Korean Conflict. He was promoted to First Lieutenant and assigned as Company Commander. During the summer of 1952, he requested leave to marry Martha Jean in Indianola (Asher served as a groomsman). Byrd completed his tour that same year and returned to Yazoo City.
In 1961 Billy closed Farmer’s Equipment and began second career. He was hired as a night warehouse supervisor for Mississippi Chemical Corporation (MCC). His first duty was to prepare and build portable latrines for the company’s ten-year anniversary celebration. He was promoted that same year to Sales Trainee and began a thirty-year career in the Sales Department. He retired from MCC as Director of Sales and Marketing in 1991.
During his tenure at MCC Byrd was an active member of the Fertilizer Industry Roundtable, Mississippi Council of Farmer Cooperatives and the Mississippi Agricultural Chemical Council (President 1977). He was also a member of The Association of Mississippi Agricultural Organizations and the Central Mississippi Agri-Business Council.
Byrd participated in several community and civic organizations including the Lion’s Club (Past President), Keep Mississippi Beautiful Committee, and the Yazoo County Chamber of Commerce (Board of Directors).
Byrd was enrolled at birth as a Sunday School member at First Baptist Church, Yazoo City. He publicly acknowledged Jesus as his Savior as a child and was baptized in the same congregation in 1938. He was a continuous member until his death and served in many capacities including deacon (past Chairman), SS Director, Personnel Committee, Choir and Orchestra (trumpet). Martha Jean served many years as the church organist, and Billy became a self-taught organ repair and maintenance man.
Billy and Martha Jean reared a daughter, Beth and two sons, David and Neil. The loving parents were staunch supporters of all of their children’s endeavors even into their adult lives.
During his retirement, Byrd remained active in professional organizations and filled much of his time manicuring his lawn. His chief aggravation was a prolific stand of sweet-gum trees in his back yard. Byrd often quipped that, “the road to hell is lined with sweet-gum balls”.
Billy and Martha Jean enjoyed visiting their children and grandchildren and made several interstate and international tours with their friends. When her health began to fail, Billy affectionately attended to Martha Jean until her death in 2007.
In recent years Byrd was a mainstay at all weekly worship services of FBC and Thursday Lion’s Club meetings at Stub’s Restaurant. As recently as the fall of 2011, even though he battled a bothersome limp, Byrd aggressively peddled Lion’s Club pecans in support of the organization’s sight saving efforts. He had every intention of setting new sales records each year.
Because of the gift of his Savior, Byrd was assured of an eternal life with his Heavenly Father. Now he no longer limps for any reason, but especially not because of sweet-gum balls.
He was preceded in death by his wife Martha Jean Byrd of Indianola; parents Eugene Leonard Byrd, Sr. and Glennie Sigrest Byrd of Yazoo City; brother Eugene Leonard Jr. of Santa Barbara, CA; sisters Dorothy Byrd Hutchison (Clyde) and Frances Byrd Crocker (Clayton) of Yazoo City and Kathryn Byrd Hanks (Ward) of Smithville, MO.
He is survived by his daughter Beth Byrd Stansberry (Jerry) of Hixson, TN; sons David Alan Byrd (Carol) of Stuart VA; Edward Neil Byrd (Freda) of Hoover, AL; grandchildren Bren Stansberry (Sharon) of Knoxville, TN; Gina Stansberry George (Eric) of Franklin, TN; Katherine Dale Byrd of Pensacola, FL; Benjamin Lee Byrd of Stuart, VA; Landon Neil Byrd and Edward Earl Byrd of Hoover, AL; great-grandchildren Gentry George and Kristin Lyle George of Franklin, TN, sister-in-law Barbara Byrd of San Diego, CA; brother-in-law Clyde Edward Lee (Mary) of Austin, TX; and numerous cousins, nieces and nephews.