By Erin Williams
Rooted in Faith, Family, and Agriculture
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Andy Gipson, Mississippi’s newest Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce. As I went back through my notes preparing to write this story, there was one name he mentioned over and over. After going back and counting, I found that Leslie, Commissioner Gipson’s wife, was mentioned 51 times in our interview—more than his previous law career, his work in the Mississippi legislature, his college career at Mississippi College, and his family farm were mentioned combined.
According to Commissioner Gipson, Leslie is where most of his story began.
The son of a pastor, Gipson was raised in a Christian home and says that his solid upbringing by his parents and grandmother had a profound, early impact on his life. At the age of 7, Gipson surrendered his life to Christ and, over the years, felt called to ministry.
This calling led him through the Christian Studies department in Provine Chapel at Mississippi College, where he first laid eyes on his future wife Leslie during his last week of college before law school.
“I knew right off the bat Leslie was special, besides the fact that she was beautiful,” Commissioner Gipson said. “She told me upfront that she didn’t believe in dating and believed in courting instead. She also told me that if I wanted to court her I’d need to visit her father and ask him for permission.”
Immediately impressed, Gipson learned that this wouldn’t be as easy as it sounded because Leslie’s family lived in Missouri and she was going home for the summer. Gipson then graduated from Mississippi College with a double major in Law and Christian Studies and attended law school. For an entire summer while he worked on a clerkship, he and Leslie exchanged letters back and forth before Gipson made the trek to Missouri at the end of the summer to ask her father’s permission to court her.
He and Leslie courted for a year before their yearlong engagement and marriage in 2001. For the past few years prior, since Gipson was 18, he had been living his dream in the form of a 300-square-foot cabin that he built himself on his family’s farm near Braxton, on the Simpson/Rankin County line.
“Growing up, going to ‘the farm’ every weekend was the highlight of my life. I grew up working on the farm, clearing land, and hunting in the nearby woods. It was my heaven and I knew I wanted to return and live on the farm as soon as I could,” Gipson said. “That led me to build the cabin I had been living in all throughout college; however, it wasn’t exactly ideal to bring a new wife home to as I didn’t have air or heating. I made some improvements to the cabin and Leslie and I ended up living there another three years before we bought some land across the road from where I grew up and built a new home. That home is still where we reside and raise our family today.”
Although parts of Gipson’s life and marriage seem straight out of the American dream storybook itself, he is the first to say that it hasn’t been without hardships along the way.
“Early on in our marriage we went through a heartbreaking season where Leslie and I experienced four miscarriages that led to a lot of tears and seeking the Lord,” said Gipson. “However, God is faithful and has now blessed us with four healthy and wonderful children: Joseph (13), Benjamin (12), Abigail (9), and Sarah (6).”
Life went on like normal for the Gipson family for many years while Leslie worked inside the home raising the kids and Commissioner Gipson practiced law. During that time, he built up a herd of Black Angus commercial cattle and still runs his cow/calf operation today allowing his children the same farm upbringing he enjoyed so much as a child.
“I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of raising cattle, and I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything,” said Commissioner Gipson. “I’ve learned a lot and it’s allowed me a way to teach my children more about where their food comes from and the role agriculture plays in all of our lives.”
Gipson’s career in the political arena, where he’d eventually be appointed as the new Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce, was never something he foresaw for his life; however, looking back he can see the Lord’s direction all along.
“One of my life verses is Proverbs 16:9 where it says that a man’s heart may devise his way but the Lord directs his steps all along. This has 100% been true of my life,” said Commissioner Gipson. “In 2006, I felt led to seek the office of State Representative and served in that role for 12 years. In fact, I was planning on not running for re-election in the legislature before I received the call from Governor Bryant about the Commissioner vacancy.”
According to Commissioner Gipson, he had faith that the Lord would direct his path even when he didn’t know where it would lead next. During his time in the legislature, he began to feel the same calling again to preach the Gospel like he felt as a child. In December 2010, he surrendered to preach and has preached nearly every Sunday since. Currently, Gipson serves as the bi-vocational pastor at Gum Springs Baptist Church, a role he thoroughly enjoys.
Now, Commissioner Gipson feels he is right where he needs to be. He spoke of how God has blessed Mississippi in so many ways, from abundant natural resources to highly productive land and gifted, hard-working people. Although he knows that Mississippi has its challenges along with its assets, he feels incredibly blessed to be working in a role he is so passionate about, within the community he believes in and loves.
Although more and more people are becoming further removed from the farm, agriculture is still Mississippi’s number one industry, with nearly 11-million acres of farmland and 20-million acres of forestland. Mississippi’s 36,200 farms produce $7.56 billion in farm-gate value in crops and commodities. In addition to that, $16.41 billion is produced in value-added income to our state.
Even for those not living or working on the farm, the fact is that all of us who eat food, wear clothing, pump fuel into our vehicles, enjoy taking our kids to pumpkin patches and so many other things, are affected by agriculture daily. Along with his family, his role as a pastor, and managing his own small operation, telling a part of Mississippi’s deep, rich, and growing agriculture story is Commissioner Gipson’s passion. Although his roots and love in agriculture run deep, he is quick to say that above everything else his faith in Jesus defines who he is and, ultimately, who he wants to be.
Commissioner Gipson summed it up best himself when he concluded by saying, “By His finished, saving work on the cross and the power of His resurrection, I am free to live for God. By His grace and through the leading of the Holy Spirit I strive to show others the way to Jesus Christ, and I seek to treat folks the way I would like to be treated.”
Erin Williams is an account executive at MS Christian Living. She’s a wife to Zach, mama to Dallas, Dolly Parton enthusiast, cattle producer, and agriculture advocate. She’s a member of Highland Colony Baptist Church and lives in Madison.