The Dart: This guy can clear things up
NATCHEZ — Ralph Jennings has always had a gift for explaining things.
When the Dart found him on Oriole Terrace Thursday afternoon, he and his wife Linda were getting ready to head to a church program planning meeting. At some point in the gathering, something might have needed some clarification, and that’s been Jenning’s specialty for years.
For many years, Jennings was a research chemist for the National Water Laboratory at the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, running toxicology reports on water.
But when that program fell out of favor with the government, Jennings was transferred to the then relatively new Environmental Protection Agency, where he worked as an agency enforcer.
That’s where he found his ability to make things clear for people came to the forefront.
“I ended up doing some teaching,” Jennings said. “One of the things that endeared my research office to me was my ability to communicate my work to the public.
“I was utilized often to understand what the difficulties were to the public comprehension (of the EPA’s work).”
In one instance, he said, Jennings had to go to an Alabama town and explain to residents there why the EPA would be concerned about how the runoff from a livestock feedlot might be impacting the local environment.
“I really had to spend a lot of time explaining the responsibility the agency had been given by the government,” Jennings said.
In another instance, Jennings had to travel to a Georgia town and justify to the locals why the EPA would spend $1 million in groundwater research there rather than just drilling the town a $10,000 well.
“I had to explain to the mayor why it was more important to investigate why their groundwater was contaminated rather than just digging a new well,” he said.
After he retired, Jennings — a Natchez native — returned to his hometown.
After Historic Natchez Foundation Director Mimi Miller visited his church — Rose Hill Missionary Baptist Church— to consult with the membership about an addition that was being made to the historic structure, she asked Jennings to volunteer with the foundation.
“I guess she thought I might be a good person who would be able to explain the work of the foundation to people, and why they would need to work with the set of guidelines we have for modifying historic structures,” he said.
Jennings also got involved with Habitat for Humanity, where he served as the group’s communication specialist, after his return to Natchez.
“Public service was what really interested me, and the experience of being able to express the message of the organizations I have been involved with is a utility I brought with me,” he said.
Jennings has had to scale back some as time has passed, but he still volunteers at his church, where he is a deacon and leads a Bible study.
“That seems to be my ability, teaching — or maybe just talking,” he said.