Fred Callon contributed much to community

Published 12:37 am Sunday, May 28, 2017

As Alvin Shelby and dozens of others in the room bowed their heads Thursday night in a moment of silence, my thoughts immediately flashed to how Fred Callon would have reacted to the attention.

Callon would have almost certainly been gracious and kind about the moment of remembrance and prayers for him at the Natchez Festival of Music’s gospel tribute, “Highway to Heaven.”

That was just Callon’s way.

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But he would have also shied away from the attention a bit.

Callon, who died unexpectedly last week on a business trip, was a rare business leader.

He led one of Natchez’s largest businesses, Callon Petroleum, founded by his father and uncle.

In films and TV depictions, corporate CEOs are supposed to be bold and brash, cutthroat and cocky.

Callon was none of that. In fact, he was the polar opposite. Gracious, friendly and nice, was how people who knew him described the man.

Think Ritchie Cunningham rather than Gordon Gekko.

I was not close to Callon, but knew him socially. Many times I saw him at lunch at Magnolia Grill on Silver Street.

Callon and others with whom he worked seemed to have a perpetually reserved table at the front of the restaurant.

He never failed to work the room when he arrived.

It wasn’t in the cheesy, disingenuous sense one gets when a politician works the room. No, Callon seemed to genuinely like people and wanted to speak to anyone he knew — and many he didn’t know.

My other encounters with him beyond the occasional wave and “hello” exchanged when seeing him out in public — often at events with his grandchildren — were in the formative stages of what eventually grew into Natchez Now and Natchez Inc., the economic development engine for our community.

Callon became involved early on in those meetings that local business leaders held to figure out a way to rebuild a professional economic development organization after the city and county let the former organization fall by the wayside.

Most people in those early meetings had clear, vested business interests in seeing the community’s economy prosper. People in the room sold accounting services, real estate, newspapers, insurance, banking services and more.

Fred Callon was the odd ball in the room. His presence was interesting to me because he was the only one in the room that didn’t have something to gain directly from seeing more businesses come to the area.

Callon Petroleum’s corporate headquarters is based in Natchez, but its real business interests at the time were in the Gulf of Mexico and in Texas.

Having a flourishing local economy would not bump Callon’s bottom line a bit.

But that didn’t matter to Callon, I understood as I watched him work with others. He loved Natchez and his presence in those meetings showed the rest of the business people in the room just how important what they were doing was.

Our collective thoughts being, “If Fred Callon can take time out of his busy schedule to come here and talk about restructuring a community organization, then what we’re doing must be important.”

He and his family have been quietly involved in many, many things in Natchez that helped others.

From those early days of guidance and involvement in Natchez Inc. to fundraisers for the humane society, the Callon family has given much to our community and done so with a smile and a sense of gratitude for all that Natchez is.

Thursday night, I couldn’t help but think Callon was looking down on the people at Beulah Baptist Church who were singing and dancing as the gospel music was performed.

He would have smiled at how eclectic — how very Natchez — the audience was. Young and old, rich and poor, black and white, were all together enjoying the music and the celebration of the gospel message.

Choir leader Shelby said it best as he introduced the evening, “Tonight, we are all one.”

As the raw, pounding music punched my stomach with one fist and grabbed my soul with the other, I smiled as I thought about Callon’s personality and his driving love of his fellow man and of the town he loved so much.

He will be sorely missed.
Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or