Same Theme, Different Context–and a Reminder How Far Back I Really Go in Disaster Recovery

Funny, life sometimes takes us full circle, even without our realization–until something puts us in a “deja-vu” moment. Then we realize we’ve been there before, and though under different circumstances, we know there is a reason why we are in that place at that specific time. My last post was entitled “Back to My Roots”–maybe this one should be called “Back to The Future”.  My next disaster recovery work is in the rural area north of Little Rock, Arkansas. Severe storms and a half-mile wide tornado ravaged this area, missing Little Rock proper, but causing widespread damage in the communities of Mayflower and Vilonia.  Fourteen people were killed, and the entire downtown of Vilonia was destroyed.. 

The first “back to the future” connection may come as a surprise to some who know me.  Although I spend the vast majority of my life in Louisiana, I was born in Arkansas.  My family has deep history there, and my siblings (who are all older) spent their formative years in the Natural State. Yes, I can, and do, call the Hogs (a robust cheer for the University of Arkansas mascot Razorback swine to non-southerners) and am very familiar with the history of the home state of Bill Clinton and Don Tyson (who was a friend of my dad’s).  

The second “aha” moment was much more revealing. In discussing the recovery effort with colleagues last night, to help rebuild a relatively small town that had been rocked by a disaster, it hit me. I had been there before.  Not in Vilonia, or its neighbor Mayflower that also suffered heavy damages, but in my own hometown of Logansport, LA (pop 1,600).  Not far into my first career, as a banker there, downtown Logansport was damaged by fire. Several buildings suffered heavy damage, and the town drug store (this was well pre-Walgreens or CVS on every corner) was destroyed.  I was just beginning to serve my first term as President of the Chamber of Commerce (membership +/- 100) when it occurred.  Determined to rebuild, and keep businesses from jumping the Sabine river to neighboring Texas, where sales tax was then non-existent, we rallied around a fundraising dinner to thank first responders and help affected businesses.  We succeeded in helping those businesses recover, and in part due to that success my future as an active volunteer, leading to my second and longest career, was solidified.  

Remembering that brought a flood of memories, and a realization that the trials we endure serve to prepare us for the future.  That event led me to pursue a career in economic development, that has taken many turns–from Chamber-based professional, to strategic planner, to international speaker and consultant, to economic disaster resilience and recovery expert, to my second home of Oklahoma that defines resilience, to a couple of small towns in Arkansas, not unlike the small town that I saw rebound and rebuild 30 years ago, with the same spirit that I already know will exist when I arrive in Arkansas on Monday.  

Led Zepplin lead singer Robert Plant, when hopping on their jet after a sold out concert at the height of their fame, looked up to see a Little Richard performance on the video monitor in the jet’s main area.  He sighed and said, “no matter how big we get, we’ll never escape our roots.”  Thank God for that, Robert.  Thank God for that.  See you next time around. 

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