3 Inspired People

Stories Jason Browne | Photographs Masa Henley

Crayton Coleman, Macon
Crayton Coleman
is from DeKalb and lives in Starkville, but he spends most of his waking hours performing community service in Noxubee County.

That’s mostly due to his job as a 4H extension agent, so he gets paid to improve the quality of life in Noxubee for eight hours a day. But Coleman doesn’t know when to quit. Even off the clock, he’s on his job.

Take the 2005 Noxubee County Relay for Life. Coleman wasn’t the only volunteer helping to organize the event, but he volunteered so hard he got himself tabbed as one of the state’s Top 10 Volunteers by the Mississippi Economic Development Council.

“The whole community came together that year, and we raised more than Oktibbeha County’s Relay for Life. We brought people together that had never been together — black, white, Mennonite. I had never seen 10 Mennonite ladies with skirts on doing the tug-of-war,” Coleman says.

Regardless of the cause, Coleman says everything he does is intended to unite people for a common goal. He’s applied that ethos to obvious community events like Noxubee’s annual Dancing Rabbit Festival, but he’s also involved in less conventional events, like working with the Noxubee Alliance on an annual county-wide football pep rally to bring together fans from the public Noxubee County High School and the private Central Academy.

In an effort to diversify extracurricular experiences in the rural county, Coleman volunteered to coach tennis through the Macon Parks and Rec youth programs. A former top-ranked adult player at the state level, Coleman says the kids he began coaching seven years ago as 8-year-olds are now winning state titles and coming dangerously close to beating their coach.

“That’s good. I want them to be better than me. It’s important that we expose our kids to opportunities like that. I just want people in Noxubee County to have the same opportunities surrounding counties have,” he says.

Marsha Williams, Starkville
If the Starkville Community Theatre had a Hall of Fame, Marsha Williams would get inducted on her first ballot. No debate.

Her stats speak for themselves: Charter member in 1978. Acted in 28 productions. Directed two. Multiple Mississippi Theatre Association Festival competitions. Served as president, vice president, member of the board of directors, box office manager.

But if we follow the Hall of Fame scenario, Williams still wouldn’t get in for a few years yet, because she’s still up on stage pretending to be other people.

“If acting is my talent, it’s my only one,” she says. “I’m not musical. I don’t sing. I’m not artistic. Any creativity I have has been expressed in theater.”

Williams has as many stories as you would expect of a veteran with three-plus decades experience on the stage. The panic and improvisation that accompany forgotten lines. The intimacy of two-person shows. The immediate feedback of comedy. The delayed feedback of drama. The long hours of rehearsal leading to the short hours of performance.

She can tell you about nerves, but she doesn’t have any stories about stage fright.

“It’s all in the preparation. If you’ve done the work and know your lines and when you’re supposed to move, it takes away the fear,” says Williams.

Paula Mabry, current SCT president, can vouch for Williams’ preparation habits.

“Marsha is amazing on stage. She’s so seasoned. She always knows her lines before anyone else does,” says Mabry.

As dedicated to the SCT as she is to her own art, Williams constantly looks to improve both. If she doesn’t land a part she wanted, she doesn’t pout. She helps out preparing the set or calls season ticket holders to check on reservations.

Having been with SCT since the beginning, Williams witnessed its effect on Starkville’s cultural atmosphere, as well the revitalizing effect on Starkville’s downtown area when SCT opened the Playhouse on Main in 1995.

“Last year we had over 700 season subscribers. It’s a testament to the people that started SCT and the very talented and dedicated group of younger members keeping it going,” says Williams.

Roy Friday, Columbus
Somebody please get Roy Friday a cape and some tights, because this man is about the closest thing to a superhero the Golden Triangle has.

Friday, a certified mechanic in Columbus, doesn’t exchange stilted dialogue with super villains or knock out thugs, but he does arrive in a custom van to save imperiled citizens. And he definitely has superpowers.

“I asked God to bless my hands so I can learn to not only help myself, but to help others. Because everything has to be handled with hands. So if you can do it, I can too,” says Friday.

For the past eight years, Friday’s Shop on Wheels has been saving stranded motorists from despair right where they broke down. And sometimes for next to nothing.

“Sometimes the cost of a wrecker is what it will cost to fix a car. So 99-percent of the work I do is right there on the spot,” he says.

As of now, his record stands at eight (!) jobs in one day.

“If a person’s in a bad spot, I’ve been there before. I put myself in their shoes,” he says.

Martha Kirkley, president of the Golden Triangle Homeless Coalition, says Friday has a “heart as big as the world.”

“There are a lot of people in this world living hand-to-mouth. Roy is a guy you can always call and he’ll be there, wherever you are,” says Kirkley.

Another of Friday’s superpowers is detecting lies. He said he knows when someone is lying about being unable to pay. But for people he believes are honestly in a bind, he’ll pay for the part himself and do the labor for free.

“I enjoy tinkering, and to get paid sometimes is a joy. I might buy an alternator, work for three hours and lose $200 on a job. But on some jobs, people will overpay. The Lord has always done this. If you’re doing something for someone that needed it, the Lord is going to return it to you some kind of way.”