Natchez woman selected for MDAH board

Published 12:11 am Saturday, February 1, 2020

NATCHEZ — Natchez native and resident Helen Moss Smith has been elected to serve on the Mississippi Department of Archives and History’s Board of Director’s, the department announced Jan. 24.

Along with Smith, other members elect are Spence Flatgard of Ridgeland and Edmond Hughes of Ocean Springs. Their nominations will be submitted to the Mississippi State Senate for confirmation, the department said.

Reuben Anderson of Jackson was elected president of the board, and Hilda Cope Povall of Cleveland was re-elected vice president. Nancy Carpenter of Columbus was elected to a third term on the board.

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If confirmed by the Senate, Smith would replace current board member Valencia Hall, who is leaving the board along with fellow members Kane Ditto of Jackson and Roland Weeks of Biloxi. Members serve six-year terms. The other members of the board are Betsey Hamilton, New Albany; Web Heidelberg, Hattiesburg; and Mark Keenum, Starkville.

Hall said she enjoyed her term on the board, which began in 2011 when she was selected to fill Duncan Morgan’s seat when he retired and then was appointed by the Senate to another term.

“I did retire at this point from the board to pursue the board of alderman (Ward 1) position here in Natchez,” Hall said. “(Serving on the MDAH board) was one of the most enlightening experiences of my life. I’ve never been around a group of people who are truly the experts in their area of work. The staff of the Department of Archives and History are truly amazing individuals. They are passionate about preservation, history and the architecture of all of Mississippi.”

Smith said she is excited to be considered for the opportunity to serve on the board.

“The Mississippi Department of Archives and History has been such a wonderful advocate and supporter of preservation in Mississippi and in particular in Natchez,” Smith said. “I want to continue having us represented as we have been in the past.”

Smith said she has long been fascinated with historic preservation.

Her parents, George and Margaret Moss, renovated Texada House at Wall and Washington streets in Natchez when Smith was growing up.

“My parents started restoration of Texada when I was 13 and did not finish until I was 21,” Smith said. “I never got to live in the big house. We lived in the dependency in the back until the day I got married. They had just finished restoring the downstairs and bricking the courtyard so my husband and I were able to have our reception there at the house in 1974.”

Still, Smith said she was not involved in historic preservation but developed an interest when she was a student studying psychology at Rhodes College in Memphis.

“Rhodes is a beautiful collegiate, gothic-style campus,” Smith said. “Rhodes College owns a quarry of the stone they build their buildings in so when they do new buildings they can do them in the identical stone and the architecture of the place. . . the beauty of the buildings and what it adds to the campus is so tremendous that it is what really got me interested in having things done right.”

Smith said she later went to work in the oil field business with her husband, Randy, and they moved back to Natchez in 2009 two years after Helen’s mother died and eventually purchased Texada where they live today.

“I have been an admirer of Duncan Morgan since I was a child,” Helen said. “Duncan Morgan had Randy working for him one summer when my parents were doing the restoration while Randy was just starting college, so when my mother died, Randy said we can’t sell that family house. I have my blood sweat and tears in that house.”

Helen said, that if appointed by the Senate, she would be happy for the opportunity to represent Natchez on the MDAH board.

“I can keep Natchez on the radar at all times,” Helen said. “The board has already had Natchez on their radar and their big initiatives moving forward seem to center around Natchez wanting to do things in particular for the Grand Village of the Natchez and for Jefferson College. I’ve been hearing of their desire to improve those two great pieces of Natchez for a long time. That is another reason I was particularly interested in being on the board. But I’m interested in historic preservation for what it brings to a community regardless of whether it is in Natchez or not.”

Helen said she also is a fan of the MDAH’s work throughout the state.

“I’ve always been fascinated with the civil rights era, and the Mississippi Department of Archives and History is really big on that era,” Helen said. “They have done things and are going to do more with the Medgar Evers house in Jackson and they’ve learned with the Eudora Welty House in Jackson how to work within a community within a neighborhood to bring more to the town and make it work within the setting that it is.”

Helen also has been active in the tourism industry in Natchez.

“Three years ago, I was appointed to the board called the Natchez Convention Promotion Commission which operates as Visit Natchez,” Helen said. “I am on the Visit Natchez Board and that opened my eyes even wider to the importance of preserving our beautiful places and telling the whole story of history all the way up to the current era.”

Helen said would take the position seriously if the Senate confirms her to the MDAH board.

“It is just the kind of board I would want to work with,” Helen said. “They are well worth your time is what I feel. It is a good endeavor. I appreciate every thought and prayer that can be sent to me because it is a real responsibility to deal wisely with people’s tax dollars. . . I’m fiscally conservative. I’m looking forward to being one of those voices on the board.”