On March 17, 2016, a great man passed away. His legacy, however, will continue to live on through the people who came to know and love him and the great institution he built.
Thomas E. Brown was born at the old Laurel, MS General Hospital on November 16, 1948 to J.J. and Maurine Brown. He attended Bay Springs High School in the mid 1960’s and graduated in 1966.
While in high school, he met the woman who would later become his wife and support, Barbara. The old adage “Behind every great man, there’s a great woman” could not have been more true. Barbara would provide love and counsel, continuing to inspire Brown throughout his life pursuits.
His collegiate journey began at Jones Junior College. In 1971, Brown graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration (with an emphasis in Real Estate and Insurance). USM instilled in Brown a strong sense of community. He made lifelong friendships and partnerships through his fraternity Sigma Alpha Epsilon — they became brothers, supporting each other and their Alumnus, bound by their principles and “grip”. Brown also came to love the USM Eagles and never forgot how invaluable his time at Southern was to his growth. Brown would be the first in the stands of “The Rock” and continue to give back to the university who fostered his pursuit of knowledge and greatness during these formative years.
Thomas Brown later graduated from the University of Mississippi School of Banking. Immediately after graduation, Thomas became employed by Ford Motor Credit Company on the MS Gulf Coast. However, home was never far from his mind and he never forgot his time growing up in the Pinebelt region of Mississippi. He knew he wanted to give back to the community and people who allowed him to seize his future and in 1972 he returned to his hometown of Bay Springs, to begin his lifelong career in banking. Upon his return, he served at the Bay Springs Bank from 1972 until joining the team at Jasper County Bank in 1977 (Jasper County Bank would later become known as Magnolia State Bank).
Jasper County Bank was started by a group of local businessmen in 1975 with the goal of giving the residents of Bay Springs and Jasper county an alternative to the one bank they had access to in the community. These businessmen knew that the best way to help their community grow was to provide a better way to bank — however, like most big ideas it would take a passionate and dedicated leader to accomplish such a lofty goal. Jasper County Bank would face many difficulties in its early days, but eventually a visionary would change everything. The bank may not have known at the time, but their new hire, Thomas Brown, would be the one to reform not only the bank – but also his hometown and state.
Brown worked diligently for the bank and Jasper County and his dedication did not go unnoticed. He quickly became known as an innovator and in 1979, just two years after starting his journey with Jasper County Bank, he was elected President and CEO of the bank. The bank began to see growth. In 1982 Brown formed a partnership with the bank’s historical Chairman of the board, Robert L. Abney Jr. Together they formed the Magnolia State Corporation, a holding company which acquired a majority ownership of the bank. With this acquisition, Brown was able to begin to push through changes which would become the core of the Magnolia State Bank philosophy.
Throughout the 80’s and 90’s, Jasper County Bank continued its mission to establish a solid alternative to banking in Jasper County. While it grew, it kept its headquarters in Bay Springs where it still remains today.
In 1999, recognizing the need to offer their friendly, efficient and local services to other markets in the state, the Board of Directors decided it was the right time to make a change. Part of this growth strategy required a new brand. A brand that would allow the bank the opportunity to grow with the state. Shareholders unanimously approved changing the bank’s name from Jasper County Bank to Magnolia State Bank.
Thomas Brown did not sit idle during these 20 years of growth. Besides providing valuable insight to the bank as president, Brown diversified his skills and worked hard to grow Jasper, Smith and Jones Counties.
Brown served as President of Abney Insurance Agency from 1990 until it was sold in 1995. He also organized the Jones County Finance Company in 1993 and served as President until it was sold in 1998.
He served as a member and past president of the Jasper County Economic Development board. He was a member of the MSU — Meridian Campus Advisory Board. In 2005, Governor Haley Barbour appointed him to the State Board of Banking Review and then re-appointed him for a second term in 2010. Additionally, Brown served on the Board of Directors for the Mississippi Bankers Association, served as Finance Chairman of the Bay Springs United Methodist Church for 15 years and Brown was on the Finance Committee and Board of Directors for the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art in Laurel, MS.
Under Brown’s leadership, Magnolia State Bank expanded significantly. MSB first opened an office in Laurel in 2005. Then in 2007, the bank brought an office to Petal. After purchasing a Hattiesburg mortgage company in 2010, MSB opened a branch there. In 2011, MSB expanded into Flowood and mortgage offices were opened in Lucedale, Greenwood and Greenville. And despite the financial crash of 2008, Magnolia State Bank and its customers made 2008 the most profitable year up to that point in the bank’s history. The small local bank, with the goal of making banking more personalized and efficient for local residents, now is capable of serving a large portion of the state, while still building upon the legacy that makes it so trusted today.
Brown’s contributions to the community weren’t just through financials however. As the bank grew, the more he was able to give back to his hometown and home state. In Bay Springs, he restored the Old Post Office — allowing it to be used for community events such as meetings, weddings, baby/wedding showers and more. He donated the building that is now the Bay Springs Municipal Library to the town of Bay Springs. He created the Magnolia State Hope Fund after Hurricane Katrina to assist victims of the storm in Jasper, Jones, Smith and Forrest counties.
Outside of working and meeting people (both which he loved to do), Thomas Brown enjoyed a loving family life. He was a husband, father, fisherman, a civil war historian, a banker and as his grandchildren affectionately called him, an amazing ‘Bam Bam’. He shared invaluable stories and experiences and touched the hearts of all whom he met. Thomas Brown’s legacy will remain at the heart of Magnolia State Bank as we continue to grow. We will continue to practice his principles of kindness, respect, trustworthiness and love of the community. Magnolia State Bank’s customers and employees may have grown outside of Bay Springs, Mississippi — but we will never outgrow the importance of providing our network with local hospitality and innovation.
Mr. Thomas Brown is an inspiration to us all and he will be deeply missed, but never forgotten, as his legacy will live on through the bank and its people.
-Magnolia State Bank