Jack of One Trade — Leader: A Tribute to the Late Patriarch in His Own Words

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By Thomas Sellers Jr.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Over the 70-year history of The Millington Star, The Hometown Newspaper has had the honor of interviewing important figures upon retirement. Back when Jack “Mr. Jack” Huffman was stepping down from his role with Millington Public Works, The Star profiled his career and legacy.

The building Jack Huffman has called his work home for the last 41 years he helped build with his leadership at the Millington Public Works the previous decade. 

The structure standing at 4107 Biloxi Street has been the home of the MPW offices since 1971 after then Millington Mayor Tom Hall informed Huffman whatever surplus left from his annual budget would go towards a new building. 

Huffman came to Millington Public Works back in January 1963 as a heavy equipment operator. A few months later he was the man in charge as director. And at the end of this month he will retire from that post after nearly 50 years and leave the office he helped construct.

“Mayor Hall told me to design everything and get in the building what we would need,” Huffman recalled. 

The man known as Mr. Jack and recognized for his trademark hat said it was time for him to end his tenure as Public Works director.

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“With them getting another administrator, I just figured it will be time for me to go on out,” Huffman said. ‘I’m 80 years old. I’ll do something. I don’t know what it’s going to be. But I’m not just going to sit down.”

Still making post Public Works plans, Huffman said the department will be left in the hands of a qualified staff. Over the past five decades, Mr. Jack has built that staff under the watch of five mayors.  He took over the post with Hall in office. Then there was a 20-year run with George Harvell. Then in the last eight years, Huffman has watched Terry Jones, Richard Hodges and Linda Carter run the city.

“All the mayors, you had to learn their style of operation,” Huffman said. “They’ve all had different ideas of what they wanted to do. I just went along with them and tried to keep the city clean, safe and the employees happy. 

“The employees are really who made me look good,” he continued. “We’ve got some of the best employees. Most of them are local women and men. They’ve been dedicated to their hometown. Most of them have graduated from Millington Central. They take their job to heart. We’ve got some of the best.”

Huffman said he shared with his employees the lesson he learned from the late Millington entrepreneur W.S. “Babe” Howard, ‘It doesn’t cost you anything to be nice.’

Several of Huffman’s colleagues honored him for his approach to the job and longevity last year. The TCAPWA presented Huffman with a plaque to recognize his 49 years of public works service. He was the longest serving public works director in the state.

“Not only do I know people in Millington,” he said. “I’ve been around and I know people all around. When we had the floods, I had Covington, Germantown, Bartlett and Shelby County all come in. I didn’t have to call them. They called me and asked, ‘What can we do?’ 

“That’s the same thing I do when they have a disaster,” Huffman continued. “’What can I do? What do y’all need?’ I’ve met people statewide at different conventions. That’s where you learn about other people in the state. What works? And what doesn’t work?” 

Huffman and his crews kept Millington safe during times of disaster like the Christmas Flood of 1987 and the May Day Flood two years ago. 

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“We’ve got one guy who has been here 40 years, one or two of them who have 30 years, some of them 20 years,” Huffman noted. “So they know the town. They know the flood prone areas. That’s where we go when we have severe weather or flash floods. They know where to go and what to do. 

“We know where to go and when to go,” he added. “The guys knew what to do. I want to praise them a lot. They have really helped make this town what it is. It’s not me, it’s the employees.”

Huffman got his first education on how to handle a Millington flood in the early 1970s.

“The first flood that we had I will remember the most,” he said. “It was ‘73 I believe it was. It was the first one we had on the north end of town right in front of Boatwrights. 

Going in and getting people out of their houses is what I’ll remember most.”

Huffman said the men and women who worked under his leadership will have a lasting impact on him. He walked into the doors of the Millington Public Works when he was 34 years old after serving in the Marine Corps and being an assistant superintendent for Tipton County. 

And under his guidance, Huffman watched Public Works grow from personnel to technology advancements. 

“We used to pick up garbage in a No. 2 washtub,” Huffman recalled. “Then we’ve got pushcarts and set the tubs on them. Then we finally went to the curbside pickup. There have been a lot of technical changes as for equipment. 

“We used to pick up trash with a pitchfork and toss it over to the truck and haul it on,” he added. “Now we’ve got those clime trucks. It’s easier and more efficient.”

Some of the public works employees describe Huffman’s tenure as director as efficient. With his final day approaching in the office he helped build, Huffman said he is humbled by the kind work from colleagues, employees and residents of Millington.

“It makes me feel good,” he concluded. 

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