‘These shoes we will never fill’: Natchez leaders reflect on death of former mayor Butch Brown

Published 9:05 pm Tuesday, April 25, 2023

NATCHEZ — The Natchez Mayor and Board of Aldermen held a moment of silence Tuesday night to remember former Mayor Butch Brown, who has died.

Mayor Dan Gibson stopped the board meeting after getting a text message telling him about Brown’s death.

“Natchez has lost a giant,” Gibson said. “These shoes we will never fill. We will feel this loss greatly.”

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Brown served three terms as Natchez mayor and eight years as director of of the Mississippi Department of Transportation.

Click here for some images from The Natchez Democrat’s archives of Butch Brown’s many roles in Natchez and beyond. 

Current aldermen who knew and worked with Brown shared their memories of him.

Alderman Billie Joe Frazier said Brown did great things for Natchez.

“I knew Butch as a young police officer. You had to really know Butch. Butch was Butch. He didn’t care who you were or what color you were. He would make you mad as hell sometimes. That’s just the way Butch was. But whatever he did, he did for the citizens of Natchez. This community is going to miss him. He stepped on a lot of toes, but he did many good things for Natchez.”

Alderwoman Valencia Hall said Brown was who approached her about being on the preservation commission.

“I’ve known Butch a very long time,” she said. “Butch did more for Natchez when he was with MDOT than any other time. He will be greatly missed.”

Brown served as mayor of Natchez, then served as MDOT director for a number of years before returning to Natchez and running for mayor and being elected again.

“It was an experience,” said Alderwoman Sarah Carter Smith about serving when Brown was mayor. “I learned a lot. He did a lot for Natchez. There are things here that are his legacy.”

Alderwoman Felicia Irving said she knew Brown for 25 years.

“He did so many things for Natchez, along with what he did when he was with MDOT. One of his major projects was upgrading Minor Street. He was the life of the room whenever he walked in,” she said.

Aldermen Ben Davis said he met Brown, too, when he was a young police officer.

“When I got elected, he told me to come see him and he would tell me anything I needed to know about Natchez, and I did.”

Former alderman Ricky Gray, now an Adams County supervisor, was in attendance at Tuesday’s city meeting.

“First, condolences to the Brown family. I wasn’t even sure why I was coming to this meeting tonight, but I’m glad I’m here now,” Gray said. “Y’all might not know this, but 592 Project was the North Natchez project. We couldn’t get the money. Butch was with MDOT. I went to see him and told him we couldn’t get the money. He said, ‘They just need a little more information in D.C.’ That was one of his favorite things to say. They just need a little more information. We kept carrying a little more information to D.C. and we got the money. Then, we couldn’t get the match and Butch said, ‘Don’t worry about the match. I’m going to make that $2 million happen.’

“He did more for Natchez in the position as MDOT director than he could do as mayor,” Gray said. “He was the best mayor I ever served with.”

Former Mayor Tony Byrne remembered his first days getting to know Brown.

“That goes back to Junior Chamber of Commerce days. I was working at the Chamber and Butch was working at Ullman’s. That’s how I got him in the JC’s,” Byrne said.

“He owned a house right next to mine on the lake, and we actually were in business together at Riverside Central Services,” he said.

“Butch did a heck of a job for Natchez. The bluffs, for example, he was able to get the funding to stabilize them. Natchez has lost a great leader. We lost a great leader in Tommy Ferrell today, too.”

Byrne said it was Trent Lott, a former Republican U.S Senator representing Mississippi, who wanted Brown, a Democrat, as MDOT director.

“He thought MDOT needed an administrator, rather than another engineer, and he thought Butch was the man for the job.

“Butch was an excellent mayor. He could be a little rough on people, but that was his management style,” Byrne said.