Malcom Mabry, Jr.

Published 11:26 am Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Animal lover, farmer, teacher, artist, writer and former long-time legislator, Malcolm Mabry, Jr., of Dublin, Miss., died June 12, 2020, at Clarksdale Nursing Center. Malcolm was 87 years old. He leaves behind the legacy of a life devoted to the betterment of both man and animals.   

Highlights of  Malcolm’s diverse life include an early career as a high school history teacher, seven decades of farming his family land in Dublin, self-publishing two books of poetry, serving for nearly a quarter of a century in the Mississippi State Legislature, almost single-handedly raising $1.5 million for Mississippi State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine’s state-of-the-art oncology unit,  and last, but definitely not least, being the last ray of hope for more stray dogs than can be counted. 

Malcolm devoted 24 years to the Mississippi Legislature, serving in both the House and the Senate between 1964-1988. When he first went to Jackson in the 1960’s, he described himself as one of the most conservative members of the legislature and a member of the old guard of right-wing Democrats that dominated the ultra-conservative legislature. Later in the 1970’s, during a district-wide door to door senate campaign, he began to see firsthand the struggles and poverty of his black constituents. This brought on a complete change of heart to the once staunch segregationist. This led him to becoming one of the most liberal members of the Senate, gaining a reputation as an arch defender of civil rights and a champion for the underdog. He counted among his mentors Albert Schweitzer, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King.  

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Mabry was known for his smooth southern drawl, his self-assured and outspoken manner, and his sometimes formidable temperament. These traits came to fore most often as a politician protecting the rights of the oppressed on the senate floor, as a Delta farmer fighting to preserve the environment, or when advocating for the welfare animals. It was common for Malcolm, when arguing such points, to strike his iconic senatorial pose, holding up his hand with raised forefinger pointing determinedly straight up and locking his piercing blue eyes on yours as he lectured home his point.   

Malcolm was a study in contradictions considering his political accomplishments and his hardboiled, old-Delta-farmer-no-nonsense attitude. Aside from his public life in politics he was a humble, generous and unpretentious man with many unexpected interests. He lived a simple life. Malcolm never married and had a family. He never moved from his childhood home in Dublin, the small Mississippi Delta community where he was born. He was an ardent reader and subscribed to six newspapers, including the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times.  He was usually reading several books at a time, all on diverse subjects, and he leaves behind a sizable and amazingly eclectic library. He was well versed on a wide array of topics including world politics and economics; history; astronomy and quantum physics; and the lives of great people, from Einstein to Mother Teresa.  

Malcolm was one of the last handwritten letter writers, regularly writing to his many friends around the nation in his distinctive, flowing calligraphic script. For many years he exchanged letters with several political notables, including a former U.S. president. He adopted the small, Mayberry-like town of Kenyon, Minn., keeping up with their goings-on through their local paper, the Kenyon Leader, contributing to their community charities; and making many close Kenyon friends. He wrote poetry and self-published two books of his poems. He diligently painted hundreds of small smooth river stones with colorful, elaborately detailed designs resembling bejeweled Faberge Eggs. He continued to help farm his land until he was 84 and regularly mowed his beloved pecan groves and pet cemetery with his tractor and bush hog, keeping them in pristine, park-like condition.  

It was only in his last two decades of life that he began to rescue and care for stray dogs. This latter endeavor that would come to be what he thought of as his only really important accomplishment. A fervent dog lover since childhood, taking in strays began innocently enough when he took in a feral mamma dog and her eight puppies he found living in one of the old deserted share cropper houses on his farm.  Soon his number of strays began to increase and he started buying up and fencing in houses in Dublin as people moved away or died to house them. At one time he had up to 38 dogs housed around town and out at his farm headquarters. He always provided them with the best of shelter, food, veterinary care, attention and love. With no children or close family, his dogs became his family. He carefully avoided the insensitive term “dogs”, calling them instead his “babies”. He spent time with each one of them daily.  

Malcolm once told a reporter, “One by one they came in, and I adopted them and people began to put dogs in my yard. They’d just appear. And there were stray dogs that would just come to town here and I’d start feeding them and it just gradually got more and more….I didn’t start at the beginning to have my own animal shelter. It’s not something I planned, but now I’ve come to the conclusion it’s my mission in life.”  

Malcolm is preceded in death by his mother and father, Abbie West and Malcolm H. Mabry, Sr.; his brother, Ray; his nephew, Billy Ray Mabry; and his niece, Mary Lou Mabry. He is survived by his niece, Lucy Ann Mabry, of Clayton, N.C., one great-nephew, Malcolm Ray Mabry (Julie), of Greenwood, Miss., one great-niece, Elizabeth Rybolt, of Cleveland, Miss.; and cousin, Bill West (Brenda), of Collierville, Tenn. He leaves behind many close friends, including his longtime friend, David Cook.  

And he also leaves behind his “babies”: Butterbeans, Baby, Big Baby, Francine, Pup Pup, Little Boy (AKA Rabbit), Ethel II, Emma II, Mamma, Mamma Bulldog, Spot, Honey Spot, Girl, Boy, Boy-Boy, Cookie, Big Brown Dog, Eurma, Pearl, Uncle Duke and Street Dog.  

“One can always tell the state of a nation by the way they treat their animals.”  

Mahatma Gandhi  

If desired, donations in memory of Malcolm may be made to the Clarksdale Animal Rescue Effort & Shelter (CARES/1645 Desoto Ave., Clarksdale, MS 38614), animal shelter of your choice, or St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in memory of Alexa Cooke (501 St. Jude’s Place, Memphis, TN 38105).  The photo placed is credited to Diane D. Orr.   

A graveside service will be held Friday June 19, 2020, at 11:30 Oakridge Cemetery in Clarksdale, Miss.  Meredith-Nowell Funeral Home in Clarksdale is in charge of arrangements.