Mississippi House of Representatives, District 102
When I had the idea to write the occasional post about those who inspire me to explore new challenges in the empty nest phase, I knew I especially wanted to talk to Missy McGee. Most of us approaching that milestone in life try new things—starting a blog, taking up calligraphy, traveling to new places—all worthwhile of course. But this woman RAN. FOR. OFFICE. For me, on the fear scale, that would be somewhere in the range between bungee jumping and parachuting. No, not everyone is called to public office, but I know she will inspire you to use your talents for the good of the community, as she does me!
It’s a football game day on the campus of the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, and as on most such days, I see Missy McGee mingling under a tailgate tent with old friends, while simultaneously greeting new ones. Each time, I flashback to the late 1980s, and it’s as if I’m a student again, walking to class and casually crossing paths with Missy Warren (as she was called then), flashing her always-bright smile and warmly waving hello. It’s as welcome a sight now as it was thirty years ago. An added bonus on this day: I catch her chatting with campus icon, Dr. Aubrey K. Lucas, the beloved former president of the University of Southern Mississippi, and I get to snap a photo of the two together. Ever the advocate for Hattiesburg and Southern Miss, Missy McGee answers my questions about her journey from HER house to THE house.
The Lovely Ride: Tell me a little about your family.
Missy McGee: I’ve been married to Sean for 25 years. Our son Patrick is 20 and is a Junior at Southern Miss. Our son Jackson is 17 and is a Junior in high school.
TLR: What did your career consist of before you decided to run for office?
MM: Mainly being a mom for the past 20 years! Right after college I worked in Washington, DC for Senator Trent Lott, then I moved back home to Hattiesburg to work for my family’s business. When Patrick was born, I was very grateful to be able to be a full time mom. I taught part time at USM when my boys were younger in the Department of Speech Communication.
TLR: Have you always been interested in government and politics?
MM: My interest in government and politics really stemmed from my interest in how these things impacted my hometown. I had been involved in local political races over the years because I believed in certain candidates. But I am not someone who follows all the national politics. It honestly bores me at times.
TLR: Were you at all apprehensive at first about embarking on this journey that requires so much of “putting yourself out there?”
MM: I never once considered running for public office. I always liked being a “behind the scenes” worker and felt like I was good in that role. I have never sought the spotlight or enjoyed being in front of the media. So, yes, I was very apprehensive about jumping in this race. It is a very vulnerable position especially since I had never done anything like this before. I had no experience in being a “candidate.”
TLR: What motivated you actually take the leap; made you say “OK, that’s it—I’m doing this?”
MM: It is strange and I have never actually experienced this before, but I truly felt “called” to do it. I love my city. It is where I have lived my whole life. This city has been good to me and my family for generations. With the election of a new mayor, we had a new sense of enthusiasm, one that I had not seen in many years. When this seat came open, there were several people who came forward to run. However, I didn’t see the candidate who I believed really knew the city in the way that I did. Also, for me personally as a voter, it was very important for the person to represent this district to have ties with the University of Southern Mississippi. There are only three districts in our state that are home to a major university. It was important to me for the representative of this district to really “understand” Southern Miss. That was very important. So when I didn’t see that person emerge (and with encouragement of a lot of great friends), I jumped into the race. It was probably the scariest thing I have ever done.
TLR: Did nearing the empty nest phase play any role in your decision?
MM: Not consciously. But the timing was perfect. My youngest child had just turned 16 and had just gotten his driver’s license. I honestly don’t know if I could have done this because he would have needed me a lot more. He has a busy schedule with sports practices, etc. In the previous years, a lot of my time was spent “chauffeuring” him around and I truly loved those years. But it was clear he would not need me in the same ways that he had before, so it was really a perfect time for me to start something new that didn’t focus so much on my kids, but allowed me to do something for myself.
The thought had been in the back of my head for the past several years that I needed to find something fulfilling to do once my kids were in college and beyond. However, I had no idea what I would do.
In terms of making a difference in your community….do what you enjoy and feel passionate about. If everyone did just that, the whole community benefits.
TLR: How has your daily life or routine changed since taking office?
MM: My schedule when the legislature is in session is obviously very different. During January, February, and March, I go to Jackson on Mondays and stay for the week until we recess for the weekend. However, once we adjourn for the session, my life is much like it was before. I am home every night which is great. I do go to Jackson about once a week while we are out of session, but it’s very doable and really doesn’t impact my family because my husband is at work and my kids are in school.
TLR: Having experienced time with the people of your district and also beneath the Capitol dome, have you found it rewarding? Challenging? How so?
MM: Both! It is very rewarding to get to help people in my district. I have learned so much and I continue to learn something every day. I am, by nature, a fairly competitive person so it has been fun to get to fight for my district when it comes to funding for the things that are important to us. I enjoy promoting my city and working on legislation that will positively impact my district.
TLR: What is one way that you pleasantly surprised yourself during your time so far as a state legislator?
MM: I don’t know that this really answers the question, but I will say that my biggest accomplishment for my first session was building relationships. When I pulled up at the Capitol on Jan. 2 I felt just like the kid that was starting a new school and everyone knew each other but me. I was surprised at how quickly I made great friends and I already feel like I have known them for many years.
TLR: What excites you about your future? What dreams or challenges are still out there waiting?
MM: I am excited to continue to learn and grow in this new career and to have the opportunity to make an impact on this city that I love. It is truly the privilege of a lifetime to get to represent my hometown and it is a responsibility that I take very seriously.
TLR: What advice or encouragement would you give women (or anyone, really) nearing the “empty nest” phase on ways they can become newly involved and better their communities?
MM: In terms of making a difference in your community, this is my theory: Do the things you love. Help out by getting involved in the things you enjoy—whether it is working in your child’s school concession stand, or reading to kids at your public library, coaching a baseball team, or rocking babies at your church nursery, do what you enjoy and feel passionate about. If everyone did just that, the whole community benefits.