It was 1982 when Malcolm White began a parade to honor St. Patrick’s Day in Jackson. Browne, who wrote for White’s Diddy Wah Diddy newspaper under the pen name Betty Fulton, wanted to be a part of his celebration.
After years and years of being downtown, Browne says the parade had gotten too long. “Totally our fault,” she laughs, noting the sheer number of wannabe queens she kept in tow. When her group went first, everyone else waited around, when they went last, they were spending less time fundraising for their cause, Batson Children’s Hospital.
Browne noticed an ad for Sal & Mookie’s Street Carnival and contacted the restaurant’s Jeff Good, who, she says, “embraced it immediately.” It was the idea to bring his carnival into an even larger weekend that would include a parade through he streets of Fondren.
Around the same time, Fondren Renaissance, the weekend’s presenter, had just hired Jim Wilkirson as executive director. “Have you ever seen anyone with more energy?” Browne asks, correcting herself, noting her husband Kyle’s work ethic. “Jim has brought so much life to it because he is so outside the box and makes everything better. He is a force of nature and I’m profoundly grateful.”
A New York Times best-selling author, Browne says her legions of fans have embraced Fondren. “They’ve fallen in love is what they have done!” she exclaims. “Some of them say they’re gonna move here! I love how the businesses and the neighbors have embraced us. It’s win all the way around.”
Browne is happy that the weekend brings in so many people from around the world, but another group of “visitors” may be even more important. “It’s people who live in outlying areas who haven’t been inside the city in who knows how long. They come, they see, and go, ‘Oh my God…the coolest place, just right here.’ I love showing off Jackson to Jacksonians. I grew up here and it’s home for me. And Fondren is unique and becoming more successful everyday. It’s a magical place.”
A special word of thanks from Browne