September 14, 2013 10:37:17 PM
Lynn Spruill grew up in Starkville, the only child of an accountant whose energy level and curiosity exceeded the demands of his practice. L.E. Spruill, the son of a Kolola Springs farmer (his only sibling is the wonderful Frances Jutman of Columbus), also bought, demolished and rebuilt failing subdivisions and rental properties. He did dirt work.
The daughter inherited her father's restless energy. As a child she learned to shoot skeet, competed in archery tournaments and developed into an avid equestrian. She learned to fly when she was in junior high.
Spruill earned a degree in business at Mississippi State and planned to go to law school. About that time the Navy had begun a push to recruit female pilots. A recruiter called and Spruill said yes.
She earned her wings, and even though she finished first in her class in flight school, chances seemed slim she would realize her dream of flying fighters off aircraft carriers, a practice forbidden by Congress at the time. Spruill persisted and eventually flew mail planes from a carrier in the Atlantic.
After six years, she exited the Navy to become a corporate pilot and then a pilot for Delta stationed in Dallas. When a neighbor asked her to get involved in a political campaign -- at the time Spruill wasn't even sure of what community she lived in -- she said yes. Her candidate won and soon the airline pilot was a council member and then, later, mayor. She flew her Delta gig on the weekends.
In the 1990s, still with Delta, she transferred to Atlanta; while there she earned a juris doctor/masters of public administration at Georgia State University. In 2000 her father died and times had gotten tough for the airlines. Spruill retired from Delta in 2004 and moved home to run the family business.
Back in Starkville, Dan Camp, a longtime friend, happened to be running for mayor. Spruill joined his campaign. When Camp made it known he was going to hire a city planner, Spruill joked, 'Shit, Dan hire me.'
"We laughed about it later," said Spruill. "It was a throwaway comment."
As they sometimes do, the joke became reality. At Camp's urging the board of aldermen hired Spruill. Camp's successor, Parker Wiseman, kept her on.
"She was exceptional," said Camp, not one given to flattery. "Lynn is a Type-A female that gets the job done and doesn't beat around the bush."
In June municipal elections, Starkville voters elected four new aldermen. Spruill was one of several victims of the town's changing political currents, a trend some characterize as a shift from competence toward partisanship.
At its first meeting the new board fired Spruill. No reason was given. The move sparked outrage. Citizens wrote letters of support to this newspaper and 19 individuals made impassioned pleas on her behalf, to no avail. It's still unclear if the position will be filled.
Camp is bewildered by the board's action.
"I don't understand their reasoning," he said. "They never accused her of anything. I pity the city. I don't know what Parker is going to do. It's crazy."
In the meantime, the former CAO is not sitting around counting flowers on the wall. A trim, vibrant woman, who looks at least 10 years younger than she is, Lynn Spruill, 61, doesn't rule out a return to public life. In fact, given the right set of circumstances, she says she would relish it.
"I loved the work and I loved the people," she said. "We have some good, good people working for the city."
For now she's focused on the real estate company her father founded, which now owns and manages 350 rental units. Even so, she is casting about for her next challenge.
If Dan Camp had his way, Spruill would return to her previous position.
"She was the only thing going for the city of Starkville as far as accomplishing things," he said. "An alderman told me that (hiring Spruill) was the only thing I did when I was a mayor."
Birney Imes III is Publisher of The Dispatch.
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