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COLUMN: Billy Ross Brown: A kind soul

By John Morgan

When Billy Ross Brown died Saturday night, Oxford lost another stalwart of a generation that is ever so slowly fading away. Not only a stalwart, but another pillar in the foundation of old Oxford families and Lafayette County landowners.

Over the last few days, we have read about Billy Ross’ accolades and achievements in the field of conservation and agriculture, but to us who knew him as Pops, Billy Ross or even Mr. Brown, he was a selfless man who always made you feel welcome in his home and just generally welcome in his world. 

Billy Ross grew up on South 8th Street in Oxford in the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s about four houses away from my father. They attended grade school and University High together and continued to be best friends until they died. One of the last times I saw Billy Ross, he introduced me to someone at his house as, “his best friend’s son.” I can’t tell you what it feels like to hear that from an 81-year-old man, whose father has been dead for eight years. 

For me, growing up here in Oxford, Billy Ross was like a second father to my siblings and me. My dad had to work every Saturday, so it was up to Billy Ross to take us hunting and fishing on Saturdays. But when Sunday came around, a lot of the old Oxford crowd, led by Billy Ross, would get together in form or fashion. He loved to get people together. Whether it was at his house on South Lamar in the ’60s and ’70s or the lake that he built in 1974 off of Highway 7 South.  Of course I really didn’t have to add “south” to that Highway 7 location. The Brown family at one time owned thousands of acres south of town. There is no telling how many people right now live in a house that used to have cattle walking around their previous yard or a row of cotton in their flower bed.

The Brown’s Lake and Billy Ross Brown have hosted as many people and events as any venue Oxford has ever known.

I joked with his son John the other day that Billy Ross was kind of a modern-day Jay Gatsby. No, not in the physical appearance, but Billy Ross was always hosting a party, yet he would remain in the background and not in the forefront. He had his humble way about him. Not only was he humble, he had such a kind nature about him. He and his wife Lynn raised their children the same way. I have often thought how Billy Ross handed down his gentle nature to all of his offspring. 

For the last few days, people have reminisced about fun times at Brown’s Lake, Buzzard’s Roost and Ole Miss football trips and interestingly enough, Billy Ross was never the centerpiece of any of the stories, but he always seemed to be there. Many of the times, he organized the event. Just like his tireless efforts to help Mississippi farmers and conservationists, the majority of them never knowing his impact.

The next time any of you are stuck in traffic on Van Buren and happen to gaze to your right, take good notice of the building next to the Presbyterian church and remember a man that touched many, many peoples’ lives in north Mississippi, both farmers, and also non-farmers, like me.

John Morgan is an Oxford resident and can be reached at johnfnms@aol.com.