On Wednesday morning, hours after H.D. “Donnie” Brock Sr. died, his son, law partner and namesake was going through his father’s files, gathering material for his obituary.
In his father’s desk, Don Brock Jr. found a copy of a poem about the difference between a builder and a wrecker, and how it takes much more effort to be the former.
The poem, Don Brock said, summarized his father, who, besides being a respected longtime attorney, was a former economic development leader and fervent cheerleader for his adopted home.
“He has always been a proponent of Greenwood, just a fan of Greenwood and its development and its improvement,” said Don Brock.
Donnie Brock died shortly before midnight on New Year’s Eve from an apparent heart attack at a cabin at Spring Lake in Carroll County, where he and his wife, Patty, annually gathered to celebrate the occasion with several other couples.
“He was surrounded by friends around a fire pit, enjoying each other’s company,” said Don Brock.
Mr. Brock, 76, had recently experienced trouble breathing. He had traveled last month to the Mayo Clinic campus in Jacksonville, Florida, but doctors had not yet pinpointed the cause, his son said.
Funeral services for Mr. Brock will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at First Presbyterian Church, where he was previously a deacon and elder. Visitation will be at the church from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday and from 10 a.m. until service time Saturday.
The Rev. Dr. Rusty Douglas, the church’s pastor, will officiate.
Burial will be in Liberty Chapel Cemetery in Lexington.
Mr. Brock’s death, said longtime friend and Greenwood businessman Alex Malouf Jr., leaves a huge void.
“It’s such a shock, and it’s really a great loss for Greenwood,” said Malouf. “Fortunately we have some of his children here to carry on. They are all very lovely people. He reared them to be like he is. I’m delighted they’re in Greenwood, but I don’t think it’s a real substitute for Donnie.”
Mr. Brock was born into a Holmes County farming family, the middle of three sons. He grew up in Tchula but moved to Lexington midway through his junior year of high school so that the star quarterback could receive a higher level of coaching, recalled Don Barrett, a Lexington attorney who played running back on the Lexington High School team.
“People in Greenwood never realized what a great athlete he was,” said Barrett, who remained friends with Mr. Brock for the rest of his life. “He was probably the best athlete to ever play football in Lexington.”
Mr. Brock also had a propensity, according to Barrett, to improvise in the huddle, a habit that would drive the Hornets’ coach, Woodson Earle, bonkers.
Barrett recalled Earle repeatedly threatening Mr. Brock that he would kick him off the team if the quarterback continued to call plays other than those sent in by the coach.
That warning backfired, though, one Friday night when Lexington traveled to North Carrollton to play J.Z. George High School.
Trailing 7-6 late in the fourth quarter, the Hornets had driven from their own 10-yard line to the home team’s 25, Barrett said. Earle sent in a substitute player with instructions to Mr. Brock to “punch, punch, punch,” but the message carrier mistakenly thought the coach had said to “punt.”
Mr. Brock and the rest of the Lexington offense were dumbfounded, Barrett said, but not wanting to risk crossing their coach, Mr. Brock dropped back into punt formation.
“Donnie punted it about 40 yards into the kudzu, and they beat us 7-6,” Barrett said.
Mr. Brock tried to continue his football career at Millsaps College, but a leg injury his freshman year ended his playing days and prompted his transfer to the University of Mississippi, according to Barrett.
At Ole Miss, Brock continued to demonstrate his leadership skills, serving as president of his fraternity, Kappa Sigma.
He received his bachelor’s and law degrees there and then came to Greenwood in 1968 to join the law firm then known as Whittington & Whittington, becoming partners with Bill Whittington. The firm changed its name to Whittington & Brock, and then later to Whittington, Brock & Swayze when Charlie Swayze Jr. came on board.
Swayze’s wife, Jo Claire, and Mr. Brock’s wife had been former college roommates.
“He was a great friend and, of course, a good lawyer,” Charlie Swayze said of Mr. Brock. “Very smart and competent and capable lawyer who was looking out for the best interests of his client. He was more concerned about the client than the legal fee.”
Mr. Brock handled mostly business law, and Alex Malouf was among his clients. Malouf said he would joke with Mr. Brock that he didn’t charge enough.
“He’d send me a bill I would expect to be a few thousand dollars and it might have been a few hundred dollars. He was just such a generous man.”
Mr. Brock was also generous with his time as a volunteer.
Over the years, he served as president of the Greenwood Kiwanis Club and the former Greater Greenwood Foundation of the Arts. He served on numerous boards of community organizations, including French Camp Academy and Greenwood Little Theatre. He occasionally performed on the Little Theatre stage.
But he was best-known for his longtime involvement with the Greenwood-Leflore Industrial Board and its private nonprofit sister organization, the Greenwood-Leflore-Carroll Economic Development Foundation.
Mr. Brock joined the Industrial Board in 1990 and took over as chairman two years later, holding the position for the next 14 years. At times, he served as its quasi-executive director when the position was vacant.
During his tenure, Greenwood faced some of its biggest economic challenges, as the movement of U.S. manufacturing jobs to Mexico and the Far East resulted in several plant closures. But Mr. Brock, always the optimist, devoted countless hours to overcoming those setbacks with recruiting successes, including the landing of Milwaukee Tool, now one of Greenwood’s largest employers, and a private prison, Delta Correctional Facility. The period also saw major expansions of several existing manufacturers, including Viking Range and Malouf’s John-Richard, as well as of the Greenwood-Leflore Industrial Park.
“I’ve always been interested in economic development,” Mr. Brock said in a 1999 interview. “It’s the backbone of any community, along with education.”
Angela Curry, who took over as executive director of the industrial board and foundation toward the end of Mr. Brock’s tenure as chairman, credits him with expanding the role of the foundation, which included developing its first speculative building and other real estate to provide a steady source of income for economic development work.
“Donnie spearheaded some projects and some investments that are still benefitting us today,” Curry said. “We made some investments under his tenure that pretty much financially solidified our foundation.”
Mr. Brock received numerous honors for his economic development efforts. In 1993, the Mississippi Industrial Development Council presented him with the Industrial Volunteer of the Year Award. Three years later, the Greenwood Lions Club named him its Outstanding Citizen of Leflore County. In 1999, the Commonwealth presented him with its Community Service Award.
He also teamed in the early part of this century with Viking Range founder Fred Carl Jr. to develop The Birches, a subdivision of one-story patio homes carved out of a former cotton field in Northeast Greenwood. Mr. Brock and his wife of 53 years resided in one of those homes, where they frequently entertained friends and family.
In addition to Don Brock, survivors include three other children, Ashley Farmer and Palmer Brock, both of Greenwood, and Jennifer Kennon of Madison, as well as 10 grandchildren.
Don Brock, who joined the law firm in 1995, said it was an honor to work with his father and receive his professional and personal guidance.
“He taught me how to treat clients with respect and practice law with a sense of obligation and honesty,” said Don Brock, who is also Greenwood’s city attorney.
His father also instilled in him a sense of “obligation to repay the public” through volunteerism, said Don Brock, who has served as president of the United Way of Leflore County, the Boys and Girls Club of Leflore County and twice of the Kiwanis Club.
“I wouldn’t have done those things without his inspiration.”
At the end of the poem Don Brock found in his father’s desk, the protagonist asks himself what role he has played in his community: “Am I the wrecker who walks my town, / Content with the labor of tearing down, / Or am I the builder that works with care / That my town may be better, because I’ve been there?”
Donnie Brock’s saddened friends and admirers say there is no question which it was in his life.
•Contact Tim Kalich at 581-7243 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The original version of this story incorrectly reported the number of brothers Donnie Brock had.