Lynn Spruill: The irrepressible Dan Camp

Lynn Spruill

The Starkville Dispatch

January 31, 2014 10:43:34 AM

 Earlier this week the Greater Starkville Development Partnership honored its members who have contributed to the community. A wide assortment of people and businesses were recognized for their volunteerism and altruism.

 There are those who are easily recognized and regularly hailed as special people. The community as a whole knows and loves them for their warm hearts and their involvement in all manner of good deeds on behalf of others. It reminds me of the Wizard of Oz when the man behind the curtain labeled them "good deed doers." Our city and county are incredibly fortunate to have "good deed doers" in abundance.  

 What we also have are a special few who through their own self-interest made our town better. Their achievements are less widely acknowledged despite the arguably broader nature of their influence. Take Dan Camp, for example. 

 The Ayn Rand theory of self-interest is exemplified in Dan's efforts, and we are all the better for it. Dan has been the sole mastermind and driving force behind the transformation that is the Cotton District in Starkville. This urban metamorphosis has been a 40-year labor-of-love for Dan. For his efforts we, the citizens of Starkville and Oktibbeha County, have received national and international recognition for architectural design, increased tax valuation, pride of place and a revitalization of deteriorated areas, to name just a few. 

 Sometimes special people are harder to understand or appreciate than others. Dan is irascible, irreverent, irrepressible and a royal pain in the ass, but he is all that and wonderful, too. He has created beauty where there was blight, and he has done it despite the naysayers and critics, both local and from afar. The fruits of his perseverance and vision are there for all to see.  

 There are quiet things he has done just because he believed in them and their intrinsic value. He participated in the restoration of the building where the Starkville Community Theater is located; he kept the Brush Arbor Cemetery on University Drive mowed for many years prior to the city taking it over. He supports the special events that go on in the Cotton District and has long been a benefactor of the arts in the city. He served on the Starkville public school board and is a tireless advocate for the quality of the Starkville public school system. 

 When he was the mayor, Dan and I had shouting matches over many issues, but no one can accuse him of being unwilling to listen. It is just a matter of getting your decibel level high enough to be heard and then giving him time to think about it. Coming from the private sector, he abhorred the three-steps-forward, two-steps backward nature of government. He chafed at the need for consensus, but he brought a practical, apolitical approach to the city's business. It was a role borne of a commitment to the view for where the new police station should be located but it became an alternative to the "good ole boy" way of doing things. 

 Mayor Dan didn't need the job, but thought it important enough to take on. There are many bricks that have to be laid for the path to be completed. Dan laid some of the initial bricks that have led us to a new city hall and a more progressive mindset the city desperately needs. The legacy Mayor Dan left us is most likely not going to ever be fully known, but those of us who were involved understood where some of the genesis for change began. The legacy that Dan Camp of the Cotton District is leaving us is known far and wide and will be Starkville's Mona Lisa.  

 Dan's iconoclastic approach to life meant that you have to appreciate the nature of change and breaking molds if you were going to remain sane in his orbit. Dan doesn't much truck with stupid and has no problem calling it out. When he accepted his award from the Partnership his message was directed toward the future with promises of more visionary projects to come. Starkville has something exciting to look forward to coming to a street near you from the creator of the Cotton District.

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