Former Starkville High School history teacher Bonnie Feig spots one of several pictures of Starkville mayor-elect Parker Wiseman in the school’s 1998 yearbook. Feig taught Wiseman American history in his junior and senior years at SHS. Photo by: Jordan Novet
June 21, 2009
STARKVILLE -- Parker Wiseman''s political career officially began when he was a seventh grader at Paul D. Armstrong Middle School. He ran for vice-president of the student body.
His old friend Emily Sanford cracks up at the thought of one of the slogans he employed for the campaign, but she used the photocopier at her father''s office to make flyers with it pasted across them anyway. "A wise man once said, ''Vote Parker Wiseman,''" they read.
She helped because, even back then, she could tell there was something different about him. "I always knew that he had great potential to be a leader," said Sanford, now a pastor at Galloway United Methodist Church in Jackson.
Wiseman ended up outperforming his two competitors and winning the election. The next year, he automatically assumed the student body presidency.
Wiseman did not just pop up as a possible politico this year. His classmates and teachers through the years remember him as not only a leader proper but as a person with personality traits one needs to be able to effectively lead a population.
His college professors remember him as focused on turning theory into action and clear-eyed about his vision.
And for years his friends have seen him interacting across social strata and bringing people together.
Starkville High School social studies teacher Bonnie Feig, who taught a U.S. history course Wiseman took in 11th grade and an Advanced Placement U.S history course he took in 12th grade, recalls him as "the overall Mr. Starkville guy."
Although he became passionate when he argued in defense of Starkville Public Schools and when he praised Mississippi State University -- and was persuasive -- he was "very accepting of all people" and "could get along with all people -- economically, religiously, whatever," she said.
She remembers him constantly bringing up current events in class. "I would think he read the newspaper," she said. "He listened to the news."
Indeed, he was paying attention to news back then, he said on Saturday. He found himself reading whatever his father, MSU political science professor Marty Wiseman, left over from the assortment of newspapers in the household: the Clarion-Ledger and the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal each day and the New York Times on weekends. Parker Wiseman remembers gravitating to the sports and opinion sections.
The inside joke circulating among students was Wiseman would, one day, be the governor of Mississippi, said Ben Carver, who along with Wiseman graduated from Starkville High in 1999 and was just elected Ward 1 Alderman.
In those days, Wiseman played center on the football team. Every Thursday, the team''s offensive linemen had a tradition of going out to eat. One night Carver, then the baseball team''s pitcher, went along with them, and he met Wiseman then.
At the time, Parker had wanted to become a high school football coach, his friend Joey Sherrard said. But when Wiseman was not picked as a starter on the football team in his senior year of high school, he decided to run for student body president, said Sherrard, who was a kicker for the team.
Wiseman remembers it differently. "I loved sports, but I was not much of an athlete," he said. Over about five or six months toward the end of his junior year, he was "tormented" but became convinced after the first practice of his senior year to go into student government.
After Wiseman graduated from Starkville High, he stuck around the city for college. At MSU he was president of the student association and Mr. MSU.
In class, Wiseman stood out to Prof. David Breaux, a former head of MSU''s political science department and now associate dean for academic affairs and student services of MSU''s College of Arts and Sciences.
Breaux taught Wiseman in just one class, Political Analysis, but one semester was enough for the student to leave a lasting impression on the professor.
"He was always a very determined and focused student in terms of someone who knows what they want to do when they grow up, and they know where they want to go and they want to get there," Breaux said.
"Parker always struck me as someone who had a plan for his life and was always focused on it and implementing it and making it happen. Having Parker in class, you weren''t left with any doubts that this was not just someone who wanted to study politics, but someone who wanted to be part of the political process."
It''s rare for a student to have a vision for himself as clear as Wiseman did, Breaux said.
After Wiseman graduated from MSU, he went to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he studied at its highly ranked School of Government.
While there, Wiseman took two courses in budgeting with Associate Prof. William C. Rivenbark, who received his Ph.D. from MSU, under Wiseman''s father.
"When Parker came into the program," Rivenbark said, "he was extremely focused, and he is focused on local government, of course, services, quality-of-life issues -- the more focused you are, the more you can get out of a program rather than just having a real broad base."
Rivenbark also said Wiseman had a knack for shifting between theory and practice.
"He was one of my very few students who could really move fairly seamlessly from the technical details of budgeting and the broader policy perspectives of the organization," Rivenbark said. "And some students have a hard time with that. Or going the other way, looking at the broader policy perspectives and translating that into the details of the organization -- how are we going to implement the policy."
After leaving UNC-Chapel Hill with a masters in public administration, Wiseman made his way back to Mississippi, to attend the University of Mississippi''s School of Law.
While there, he took two classes with Prof. George Cochran, who served as a clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stanley Reed and Chief Justice Earl Warren.
In class, Cochran became convinced Wiseman was "deceptively intelligent," "a quick learner" and "a very clear thinker."
Outside of class, they talked one-on-one all the time about a wide variety of topics. Cochran found Wiseman to have "a sterling character."
One particular occurrence told Cochran plenty about Wiseman. For one class Cochran has taught, students travel to Washington to study the process lawyers go through to prepare arguments they will make before the Supreme Court.
"Parker decided he was going to drive instead of fly," Cochran said, "and I offered to pay his airfare and he would not take it. He drove all the way to Washington instead of flying, unlike anybody else. I think that showed a lot about Parker."
Wiseman''s wife, Lindsey, said her husband actually took a Greyhound to and from the nation''s capital.
Cochran said of Wiseman: "He is an honest, intelligent human being who is out to do good. You''re very lucky to have him as mayor."
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