By Marilyn Tinnin
MSU’s Ambassador and Mentor
When young Jimmy Abraham went to college the first time in 1970, he did not set the world on fire. In fact, his mother and father got his grades after his first semester and told him to pack his bags, come home, and get a real job! College was basically over for him for the time being. The second of eight children went home as instructed, ashamed of himself over an opportunity squandered.
He went to work at Wiley’s Men’s Store in Clarksdale. His employer S.W. Haaga was either a natural born encourager or an angel sent by God to help mend Jimmy’s fractured ego. Haaga was a Mississippi State Bulldog through and through. He also inspired the best in Jimmy’s newfound work ethic and helped him gain the confidence to give college a second try—this time, at MSU, of course.
Jimmy worked hard and even surprised himself succeeding as both a student and a campus leader. He never forgot Haaga’s impact on his life. He began to notice other encouragers in his path and the significant influence each had on his opportunities and success. Jimmy learned from their example to be an encourager of others as well.
For 38 years, he worked at Mississippi State leading three different organizations, all allowing him to make meaningful and positive investments in the lives of those he lead. For 18 years, he was in charge of the “Roadrunners,” MSU’s student recruiters. For 11 years, he trained the Orientation Leaders. Finally, he spent 7 years leading the Alumni Delegates, a job he loved so much because it was like having a ringside seat for “Chapter 2” in the lives of alumni he had gotten to know as students.
For Jimmy, getting to know his students was about more than a four-year relationship. Even before the days of email and text messages, he built his own personal database and maintained contact with an ever-expanding group known affectionately as “Jimmy’s Kids.” In 2017, 4 years past retirement, he can tell you the present scoop on 1,065—that’s all but 19—of the students he has loved, befriended, and mentored since 1979.
Mandi Marett Stanley of Madison was a student recruiter as well as an orientation leader in 1990. She says, “I learned more about work ethic, service, kindness, and unconditional love that summer than in my entire lifetime. Jimmy has had a life-changing impact on generations of students at Mississippi State.”
Another of his students wrote, “Many people travel to do missions work around the world. Jimmy did it in Starkville, Mississippi, at Mississippi State University. He would tell us often to love God, love your family, and love what you do.”
Jimmy retired from his official job with MSU in 2013 and accepted a part-time position with Cadence Bank in Starkville as vice chairman of client and business relations. For Jimmy, it’s the best of both worlds allowing him to keep his finger on the pulse of the community he loves and allowing plenty of time to spend with his wife Patty and their three grandchildren.
Retirement has also offered him the chance to not just communicate with his former students via birthday notes and Christmas cards, but the time to visit face to face! Last year he traveled on his own to 14 cities across the country arranging impromptu gatherings over lunch or dinner. 535 past students actually came, and another 343 responded that they couldn’t come that time but surely hoped for another chance.
As much as Jimmy enjoyed seeing his kids, he loved watching them pick up where they left off with each other. Many reunited with friends with whom they had completely lost touch since college.
On Friday night, December 15, Jimmy is hosting a Christmas party at The South Warehouse in Jackson for all of his former students and their spouses or guests. He is about as excited as a little boy waiting for Santa on Christmas Eve!
“This is the first time we have ever had an event like this inviting all of my former students who were in one or more of these three outstanding organizations. It is going to be very special to have hundreds converge on our capital city to visit and share wonderful memories we made while we were together at Mississippi State,” says Jimmy.
If there’s one thing that makes for a Merry Christmas, it is the joy of seeing old friends and reminiscing about shared memories. And by the way, good food and live music are part of the evening promising to make this an extraordinary evening to cherish!
You can reach Jimmy Abraham at 662.312.3134 or JWA6@msstate.edu.