Gandy’s homecoming is exciting for community

Published 12:41 am Sunday, January 21, 2018

Rarely do we forget the firsts in our lives. The first time I rode a bike, drove a car, kissed a girl, held my children or saw my wife on our wedding day — all of those images are burned deeply into my memory.

A far less momentous occasion, but of significant meaning in my life was my first visit to Natchez and ultimately meeting the lady who would become my first boss and mentor.

I’d driven over on a warm May afternoon. The year was 1993 and I, a recent graduate from Southern Miss, was on a hunt for a job.

Email newsletter signup

A college freelance job led to a chance encounter with former Democrat photographer Thom Scott, who in turn had given my name to lady who would have a significant impact on my life — Joan Gandy.

I had applied for the photographer position that Scott was vacating, had spoken to Joan by phone briefly. She invited me to come to Natchez for a visit.

My recollection was it wasn’t much of an interview. I’ve long joked with Joan that she was merely seeking to look me over and make sure I didn’t have something obscene tattooed on my forehead before she hired me.

At first I sort of feared her, which is a good attitude to have toward someone who can hire and fire you. But that fear quickly turned into a deep respect for the person Joan was and the approach she took with the newspaper and the community it served.

Joan kept close tabs on the newsroom and all coverage plans in a yellow legal pad. I recall being amazed that she was organized enough to keep all of the newsroom pieces moving so carefully.

Gandy, a former schoolteacher, had been working at the newspaper for many years by the time I first met her.

As a boss she was unique. She was probably twice my age at the time I met her, but she managed to keep all of us young whippersnappers in line and focused without making us feel as if we were being managed too overtly.

I see now that Joan understood people well and could work with almost anyone.

From a practical standpoint, Joan taught me simple, but important things that my four years of college had not about journalism and photojournalism.

She taught me how to take a good mug shot or portrait of someone.

“Everyone looks better from slightly above,” I recall her saying after I’d botched a portrait of someone with a less than flattering pose. And she was correct. My photographs got better.

Joan understood Natchez better than anyone I knew at the time or since. Her work gave her a unique perspective on all the strata of Natchez’s society, from the poor to the very rich and all flavors in between.

Joan left the leadership position at the newspaper for a bit, and returned in a different role later.

Through the years, she touched the lives of dozens of young journalists and thousands of lives of the newspaper’s readers.

After her husband, Dr. Thomas Gandy, died, she eventually felt God’s voice calling her to the ministry. For many people the move may have come as a shock, particularly for someone who had already had two careers and could have retired. But those people did not know Joan.

Joan’s teaching and leading the newspaper, in a way, probably hinted to what was to come. In each role she helped people.

Today, she’ll mark an unusual homecoming as the Rev. Joan Gandy is installed as the new pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Natchez, the very church in which she was baptized.

Welcome home Joan. You’ve been away from Natchez for years, but your impact remained after your departure. Your pending work here in teaching and building a church community is exciting.
Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or