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Natchez tourism director retiring

NATCHEZ — Following nearly 25 years representing the City of Natchez in its tourism efforts, Connie Taunton is retiring as the city’s tourism director.

Taunton, who began working with the city’s Convention and Visitor Bureau in 1989, said the decision to retire became clear after a fire in January destroyed her home in Monterey.

The fire, along with other family events in the past few years, led Taunton to announce her retirement Monday.

“We lost absolutely everything (in the fire). I got out with the (pajamas) I had on, and it has been a very stressful and humbling experience,” Taunton said. “I have experienced several immediate family deaths, as well, over the past few years and it just became clear that I had to focus on what was best for my family and my health.”

Taunton said she wanted and needed to take time to rebuild an important part of her and her husband, Ben’s, lives.

“I will be very busy for a while working on building our home,” Taunton said. “I simply want to concentrate on building my home following the loss of my home and all contents to the fire.”

Mayor Butch Brown said he approached Taunton recently, as a friend, and told her he felt some time off to concentrate on rebuilding her home and life could help her in the long run.

“I told her, ‘Personally, I think you need a rest without stress to deal with you and your issues — not with Natchez or the Tricentennial,’” Brown said. “I told her she could be as involved as she wanted as a volunteer, but that she needed to start thinking about herself.

“I told her very clearly that I wasn’t asking for her resignation.”

Brown said Taunton informed him of her decision Monday morning.

“Her decision was perfectly satisfactory with me,” Brown said. “I can tell you that she will surely be missed, because she’s become a legend in the city, state and country as a tourism expert.”

Brown said he recalled the first project he worked on with Taunton, which involved bringing the Southern Governors’ Association conference to Natchez for the first time.

Representatives from the association came to Natchez, Brown said, to inspect its facilities after the city won the bid for the conference and immediately began doubting the city’s ability to host such a large conference.

“I told them that we were going to have the best Southern Governor’s conference that has ever been held in Mississippi and (Taunton) is the person that can do it,” Brown said. “She didn’t know it at the time, but we had big plans for the event and to this day I think it’s one of the best conferences they’ve ever had.”

Brown said Taunton was so successful in marketing Natchez tourism because of one simple word she never accepted.

“She is a person that would never accept ‘No’ as a response, because to her that was just a request for more information,” Brown said. “We’ve always been in Natchez a ‘Yes’ organization, and we take that same philosophy to Jackson, to city government or wherever we are.

“She has done such a wonderful job, and I’m going to miss her and her talents at the CVB.”

One of the larger projects Taunton was helping coordinate included plans for the city’s tricentennial celebration in 2016. City officials have discussed plans to have an event each day of the year.

Brown said he helped organized a committee several months ago consisting of various city officials who were slowly going to begin helping in the planning and preparation of the 2016 celebration.

Brown said the committee will likely begin taking more of the responsibilities off the CVB with Taunton’s departure to ensure no traction is lost.

“Obviously, this is a very expensive and important undertaking to take on an events calendar consisting of this many days,” Brown said. “The CVB will still be involved, but we want the committee to focus on making sure we have the funds and sponsorships to put the show on.”

Taunton said she will miss being involved in the day-to-day operations of the CVB, but she doesn’t plan on disappearing completely.

“I won’t miss anything, because I will still be around,” Taunton said. “I want to thank my board and my wonderful staff and all the people who have worked with me through the years to make tourism a bedrock industry for Natchez.”

Taunton’s retirement will be effective April 1.