The Joy of Her Life
by Susan Deaver
Donna Dye
Northsider Donna Dye has been a political wife, a teacher, a mom, a museum director and a longtime volunteer. Her warmth and humor instantly put you at ease, and she is quick to share her enthusiasm for life, her family and the many opportunities she has found to share her love for history and her community.

Donna is grateful for a loving, supportive family that began with her parents and one brother, six years her senior. She still enjoys frequent lunch gatherings with a group of her friends in Coffeeville, which she says was “a wonderful place to grow up.” Donna attended Ole Miss for two years, then transferred to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she was graduated with highest honors in English and only a few credits away from a major in history.

While she was home for the summer after college, Donna’s future mother-in-law knocked on the door of Donna’s family home. Maylise Dye had gone to Ole Miss with Donna’s mother, Margaret, and that day, Maylise was campaigning for her son, Brad, the only unmarried candidate in a field of three running for the state Senate. After a brief and pleasant visit, Maylise informed her son Brad that he should consider dating Donna.

Brad decided to call her and make plans to meet - but only after he had checked her out with a couple of his friends, Donna laughingly explains. Brad’s favorite story is their love-at-first-sight-meeting, complete with backup plans and hand signals. When Brad arrived at Donna’s family home at the agreed upon time, he gave his campaign driver instructions to wait until Donna came to the door. Brad had devised two hand signals for his driver; one that meant come back in five minutes, and one that meant come back in one hour. When she opened the door to greet Brad, he immediately gave his driver the ‘one hour’ signal….but the driver came back in five minutes, because he had seen Donna and wanted to visit with her too.

One of the couple’s first dates was a political rally in Tallahatchie County - which Donna says she really enjoyed. They married soon after Brad won his election, and returned from their honeymoon to a session of the Mississippi Legislature. Subsequently, Brad was appointed first to the Workers’ Compensation Commission, and then to the Agricultural and Industrial Board (now the Mississippi Development Authority). He later served as state treasurer for four years, before wining three of five campaigns for lieutenant governor.

His bride taught 10th grade English at Murrah High School until the birth of her first child. Her three sons “have been the joy of my life,” says Donna. Brad always had the kids’ basketball, baseball and soccer schedules on his work calendar, and the family reserved Sundays for church and family. While Brad was lieutenant governor, Donna laughingly explains she “accompanied him as much as possible without putting the kids in an orphanage.”

Although Donna did not work full-time when her children were young, she was always an active volunteer in her community. Her early activities included PTA and the Junior League of Jackson. The Old Capitol Museum was her first Junior League assignment and she enjoyed it so much that she began working there part time, then full time.

After serving as a docent, historian, then programs coordinator, she applied and was selected for the position of museum director. Her official title became museum division director for the Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH). The work was rewarding and stimulating for Donna and she learned something new every day. The Old Capitol Museum’s new permanent exhibit Mississippi 1500-1800 opened while she was director, and the Old Capitol Museum was selected as one of the nation’s first Smithsonian Affiliates.

Donna especially enjoyed giving tours and even after she became director, she conducted tours whenever she had the time and opportunity. She especially enjoyed asking children about any collections they might have, such as rocks, dolls or baseball cards, and would ask them to think of their collections as museum exhibits. Donna likes to say that “every day is a historical surprise.” She encouraged museum visitors who might not enjoy history to recognize that interests and activities all have a history. Sports, politics and the arts, for example, all have histories that have changed and developed through the years.

Donna was instrumental in establishing the Eudora Welty Foundation in 1999, in anticipation of the opening of the Eudora Welty House, which MDAH opened to the public last year. She served the foundation as secretary for five years and has worked on plans for the new state history museum that was authorized for planning by the state Legislature.

The Dye family has now expanded to include three “wonderful daughters-in-law and five precious grandchildren.” Oldest son Hamp and his wife Shannon live in Jackson with their children Nathan, almost 18, and David, 15. Middle son Ford and his wife Sonya live in Oxford with their young son Jack, two. Youngest son Rick lives in Jackson with his wife Emily and daughters Emma, four, and Margaret, two.

Since retiring from politics, Donna’s husband Brad has practiced law with Pyle, Mills, Dye and Pittman, in Jackson.

Over the years, Donna has supported and volunteered with countless civic organizations in Jackson. She was recognized for her many contributions when she became one of seven statewide recipients of the Power of One Award at the 1998 Mississippi Women’s Conference. Most recently, she served as president of the Mississippi Historical Society. Since retiring from MDAH in 2002, Donna has resumed an active volunteer life.

“I have always tried, as much as possible, to take advantage of the moment and make the best decision, regarding opportunities,” explains Donna. “Volunteering has enriched my life tremendously,” she continues. “I believe volunteers get more out of their volunteering experience than recipients! My parents set an example for me. Think about the example you can set.”
© 2009