Nesbit's life journey is quite a storyBy JAMIE PATTERSON,
He has been a business owner, even owned a few successful beauty schools. He’s been an outdoors writer, comfortable in the woods like second nature. He has organized a mud derby race, and garnered a reputation for playing in the mud. He has even been elected mayor, admitting he was never ran out of town.
It’s safe to say Ross Nesbit is a jack-of-all-trades. But he’s good at everything he does. With a gift for gab and a heck of a story to tell, Nesbit certainly leaves an impression.
“I have seen so many things happen in my life,” Nesbit said, sitting in his favorite recliner at his home in Satartia. “I can’t help but believe God has a plan. And I have just clicked along, fine and dandy.”
Nesbit was born on August 16, 1933 in Bastrop, Louisiana to Floyd and Emma Catherine Nesbit. But Nesbit only lived in his birthplace for about six weeks before his mother’s parents, Travis and Calista Griffis, sent for them.
“When his first grandchild was born, my grandfather didn’t want me to live in Bastrop,” Nesbit said. “He sent my grandmother to get me. I got here as quick as I could.”
Growing up, Nesbit was close to his mother’s parents. His grandfather Travis was a wealthy businessman who was making a name for himself. He was selected as Businessman of the Year in the state of Mississippi in 1947.
Business was almost in Nesbit’s bloodline. One great-grandfather owned Griffis Motor Company; the other, Planters Hardware Company.
But Nesbit was a child of the 1930s. The Great Depression was hitting across the country.
“I admit my grandfather was a wealthy man, making a million dollars by the time he was in his 30s,” Nesbit said. “But my father was a poor man. And I will admit, they didn’t get along. So, we did what we could during those times.”
When asked what he remembered about the Great Depression, Nesbit is quick to say, “food.”
“We didn’t have the food we have now back then,” he said. “We raised most of our food. The hog was the biggest source of meat for us, other than hunting. Back in those days, people ate a lot of wild meat. But we had to. We were hungry.”
Candy was a considered a luxury for young Nesbit, and he never got much.
Nesbit grew up with one brother and one sister. The mere mention of his brother Johnny Griffis Nesbit sparks both smiles and tears.
“He was president of the Mississippi Horseshow Association, you know,” Nesbit said. “But he had accident and died when he was 42 years old. It was the worst day of my life.”
Growing up, Nesbit did live on his grandfather’s farm a few times. With a job that transferred a lot, Nesbit tagged along here and there. He spent a lot of time in Durant.
But most of his younger school years were within Yazoo. And what did he do out of school?
“Any kind of ball playing,” Nesbit said, with a smile. “If it was a round ball, I played it.”
Nesbit said school was stricter in those days. Paddling was acceptable, but Nesbit said he learned to listen and stay in line.
“The teacher was a person in power, and we respected that,” he said.
When Nesbit graduated from high school in 1952, he wasn’t quite sure what he wanted to do just yet.
“I didn’t have any great expectations that I would set the world on fire,” he said. “I got a job at a hamburger joint, making $3 a day. And then I did what so many my age did…I joined the Air Force at 18 years old.”
Nesbit said the armed forces were difficult at times. It was strict, disciplined.
“I was told to keep my mouth shut and don’t volunteer for anything,” Nesbit said. “I got through it, but I never did really well with orders from people. So, I was ready to move on. I got a job before I got out, and went to work the very next day. I was a tile setter’s keeper, and it was difficult work.”
But that job laid the foundation for a piece of advice that remained with Nesbit through his entire professional career.
“If you want to succeed in anything, you have to work really hard,” he said. “You can’t say ‘no,’ and you have to be able to do it fast.”
Nesbit put those words to use. He eventually saw a newspaper advertisement for a car salesman job.
“I didn’t know anything about cars, but it was a job,” he said. “I only sold one car in two months, and I was about to starve to death.”
And then he ran into a man who changed his life in the car lot parking lot. He was a man who worked for Sears, Roebuck and Company.
“He told me he liked my approach, and that I needed to work for him,” Nesbit said. “I wasn’t making any money where I was, and they had money. So, I jumped on it.”
Nesbit began working in the store’s garden department. And it was right about the time a company contest began. Whoever made the most sales would win a $100 prize, a nice prize for 1955.
“I put my work ethic to use again,” Nesbit said. “I didn’t take lunch or coffee breaks. I arrived at work 30 minutes early and left 30 minutes late. And I outworked everybody. Out of 300 people, I won when I thought I didn’t have a chance.”
The contest and Nesbit’s performance earned him a promotion. He was moved to the “big ticket” sales, large appliances.
And it was then another man entered Nesbit’s life, a fellow employee.
“We got to talking in the store, and we made a deal with each other,” he said. “If one made if big before the other, we wouldn’t forget about each other.”
That man worked his way up the corporate ladder and immediately called Nesbit. He joined him in the higher ranks of the company at 26 years old.
Three years later, Nesbit became his own boss.
“I opened a business for myself, a beauty school,” he said. “An elderly lady helped me put money into it if I would run it. I took in a thousand dollars that first day it opened.”
Nesbit would open several other beauty schools, mostly in the Texas area. He would eventually sell his successful ventures and head back to Yazoo country, where it was time to play a little.
It was the 1970s. And Nesbit had an idea.
“We started the first four-wheeling, mud-racing derby in the world, I believe,” Nesbit said. “Nobody thought of making a track and getting out there in the mud with these trucks. But we did.”
The Yazoo Herald was filled with photographs of the Mud Races. And everybody who was anybody was in them.
“My best victory,” Nesbit asks. “When I beat Skinner Anderson.”
Nesbit ran the derby for about two years before the Race Drivers Association took it over around 1973.
Nesbit’s next project? The Great Fox Hunt was the place to mingle out in the country and rub elbows with some of the state’s top politicians. From governors to legislators, they knew about the Fox Hunt, which was held for two decades.
Nesbit also took a dive into politics himself, serving as mayor of Satartia for nearly a decade.
“Being a mayor of Satartia is a public service,” he said. “Even in a little town like this, it’s politics.”
Nesbit was proud of acquiring a $350K grant that replaced the entire water system in Satartia. Leaks that occurred at least once a month haven’t happened since.
Nesbit and his wife Kathy keep to themselves now inside their homes filled with memories of a lifetime. Photographs and news clippings show a life of a man who knew how to work, create businesses, serve his community, get a little muddy and get loose with state politicians.
“It’s been fun and quite a life,” Nesbit said.