Dan Gibson

We caught up with Natchez Mayor Dan Gibson and asked about his life journey, his mentors, and his job leading one of the oldest city’s in the nation through its struggles and recent growth

What was your first job?

My first job was raking magnolia leaves for an elderly friend of my mother’s in the Belhaven area of Jackson. She paid me $5. I was about eight years old! 

Seriously, I began working in family-owned rental properties, cutting yards, painting, etc. when I was 13. I continued doing this every summer, even through college.

Eventually I got my real estate license and bought my first rental property right after college, about the time I got my first “real job” as a leasing agent for the 111 Capitol Building in downtown Jackson. I was 22. Eventually I became the building manager.

Tell us about your education?

I graduated from Murrah High School in Jackson in 1983. Mine was one of the very first classes to go all the way through the Jackson Public Schools fully integrated. It was wonderful. I then went on to Mississippi State University, and graduated in 1987 with a Bachelor’s in Business Administration.

What do you love about living in Natchez?

I am blessed to live in Natchez, Mississippi, the oldest city on the Mississippi River and the oldest municipality in the State of Mississippi. I love to tell folks we are the oldest city on the highest bluff of the mightiest river. I grew up in Jackson and also lived for many years in Crystal Springs. I moved to Natchez in 2016—best move I ever made.

Tell us about your family?

I am married to a wonderful lady, Marla, whom I met in Natchez. She is originally from Sugar Land, TX. Moving to Natchez was a fresh start for both of us, and we happened to meet there, fall in love, and eventually marry. God has truly blessed us.

Growing up I was the youngest of four boys, and I hit the jackpot on parents. Now both deceased, they were both hardworking and loving. My father was a WWII Veteran and postal worker and my mother was a loving homemaker who dabbled in real estate. I am father to one son, Clark, who is now 30. Raising him, for several years as a single father was one of the happiest experiences of my life. Marla has one daughter, Catherine, who is 31.

Describe your duties as mayor?

It might be easier to describe what I don’t do. I am honored to serve a very diverse and historic city as their mayor. This means I kiss babies, cut ribbons, manage the city, balance the budget, run the board meetings, answer a thousand emails and text messages a week, go to every event I possibly can, recruit new businesses, keep current businesses happy, and manage any crisis that happens to come our way—sometimes all before lunch. In all seriousness, I came into office during covid and dealt with two hurricanes and a historic ice storm during my first seven months in office—and if anything, barring any more natural disasters, the job has only gotten busier!

What led you to become interested in public service?

From an early age I wanted to serve others. God put in me a love for people. It’s just that simple. In school, I enjoyed student council, and I served as student body president in both high school and college. While serving as student association president at MSU, I also served as the president of the Student Body President’s Council for Mississippi, representing state universities before the state legislature and college board. I later got elected mayor of Crystal Springs when I was 30. That same year, I was named to the “MBJ Top Forty Under Forty.” For one year I was the youngest mayor in the state. I ran for governor when I was 34. That opened many doors to me in both business and politics. During this time, I built a consultant business in insurance, dabbled in real estate, got my Series 7 as a financial advisor, and became a lobbyist. I even went into the ministry and became a bi-vocational Methodist minister. I guess I just wanted to do it all! But, public service has always been my passion. In high school, we were asked to to write our epitaphs. Mine still applies. “He lived to serve, and served to live. And of his heart, he tried to give. And give he did.”

What do you like least about your job?

The toughest part of my job is having to say no. Obviously, we all want to please others, especially if you’re a person called to public service. But sometimes, the ask is something you just can’t do. And it’s important to know when to say no and to be willing and to say it. This doesn’t mean we can’t be kind, even when we disagree. But it’s important to be fair, consistent, and strong.

What’s a goal you have yet to achieve?

There are still many goals I have yet to achieve, both for Natchez and for myself personally. But, the number one goal I’ve had for many years now is to accomplish on a larger scale what I am working so hard to accomplish in Natchez. Growing up in an integrated school system, I am deeply burdened by the division and continued racial and political controversies that plague our state and nation. We have made much progress in Natchez, and I believe we’ve also made a lot of progress in our state. But clearly, more needs to happen. We shouldn’t waste so much energy arguing and dividing. Life is too short, and our opportunities as a state are too precious. It’s time we work together. It’s time.

What is the best business decision you have ever made?

The best business decision I’ve ever made is moving to Natchez—and investing in Natchez! Obviously, I moved at a good time. Before I became mayor, I bought some properties and started a hospitality business. I had to let that go after I was elected, but we did well during the short time we were in business. And over the last four years, things have really been booming here. It shouldn’t be surprising. Considering the quality of life, all there is to do, the beauty of our city and the friendliness of our people, Natchez has it all. NPR has named us “America’s Most Affordable City”. We’ve also been named to other lists such as “Best Historic Town” and many other distinctions that we’re proud of.

Worst business decision you have ever made?

When I moved to Natchez, I had the opportunity to purchase a couple of larger properties that are now worth much more than I would have paid. I can’t help but think about it when I consider what they’re worth now.

Who are the people that made a difference in your life while growing up?

My parents had a profound influence on my life. My teachers as well. And of course, I can’t say enough for the love shown to me by my three big brothers growing up. But one brother in particular, my special needs brother Bob, taught me the art of patience, gentleness, and kindness. I grew up being “Bob’s little brother”. Just last year at my 40th High School Reunion, I got more questions about Bob than I did about me! I truly believe God put him in my life, and the lives of my family and others, to help make us better people.

What’s the best business advice you have been given?

I’ve received a lot of good advice. Hard to choose. But, what really stands out is something told to me by Mr. Warren Reuther, a successful businessman from New Orleans who has made quite a difference in Natchez: “You don’t ever have to explain what you don’t say. Surround yourself with great people, and delegate.” And the absolute best advice comes from Jesus. “Treat others the way you would have them treat you.” 

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