JACKSON — My heart sank when Tim Kalich texted me the news that Donnie Brock had passed away. I sat in my chair, and my mind flew back to another age.

It was the heyday of newspapers, and life was good. My parents, John and Celia Emmerich, lived in the house on Airport Road overlooking the Delta. My mother called the house Valley Hill. I have a carving with those words on the windowsill of my screen porch in Jackson to remind me of all the joy Valley Hill experienced.

The Brock family was part and parcel of all that joy. They were always at Valley Hill eating, drinking, laughing, talking, playing tennis. They were like a big extended family for the Emmerichs. They were that way for other blessed families as well.

My parents moved to Greenwood in 1973, the year of a huge flood. My first impression of Greenwood was a vast under-water flat area with a network of rectangular roads just above the waterline.

It was a good time for the Delta. The population was relatively stable, despite agricultural mechanization. Cheap ununionized labor fueled a manufacturing boom, before globalization drove that process to Mexico, then China and now the ends of the earth.

My father, who had been working as an executive at the Houston Chronicle, finally convinced my grandfather Oliver to take on debt and buy another newspaper.

Saddled with debt and a family to feed, Oliver barely made it through the Great Depression. It took him 40 years to gather the courage to sign a new note.

Donnie  Brock for Wyatt Emmerich column

Donnie Brock

Once in Greenwood, the Emmerichs became fast friends with the Brocks, and they traveled all over the world together. It was one of those rare occasions when all four relationships among the two couples worked. Celia loved Patty. Celia loved Donnie. Celia loved my father, and Celia loved herself. And the same for John, Donnie and Patty. What a joy to watch and learn from such healthy relationships. It made life seem so perfect and right. No doubt it greatly affected my upbringing.

Patty became like a second mother (or at least an aunt!) and Donnie like a second father. Don, Ashley, Jennifer and Palmer became like siblings or cousins over the years.

Although I had long since moved off and begun my career, every Christmas, summer visit and Thanksgiving I would be with the Brocks. When I later returned to Mississippi in 1990, I visited my parents often, and the Brock family was always a part of that.

So many happy moments watching the sun set over the Delta while swimming in the pool or playing tennis, drinking mint juleps (my specialty!) or gin and tonics on the huge veranda. Sounds like a Southern cliché, but it was completely real to me.

Patty and my father would play Donnie and my mother in tennis doubles. This was a very competitive rivalry, and my father even kept track of the win-loss record. My father was super fast, but my mother had a great drop shot. Patty had a killer forehand, and Donnie had great ball accuracy. I would watch them play for hours and marvel at how these adults could have so much fun.

After tennis, we would grill steaks and sit around the table and talk about all the issues of the world. Sex, politics and religion were definitely not forbidden subjects. Donnie was so, so smart, but also kind and wise and humble. He will always be a model to me of what a man should strive to be.

Where would Greenwood be without the Brocks? Such a family brings vibrancy and life to small cities such as Greenwood. Like the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life,” it’s hard to imagine Greenwood without this wonderful family, led by a man as inspiring as Donnie Brock.

I am so happy that Donnie lived such a blessed and wonderful life. He had a rock-solid marriage, raised an amazing family, was successful in law and business, had thousands of friends and traveled the world on awesome vacations. He left it all on the field. How perfect that his last day was a fun New Year’s Eve laughing and talking around a fire pit at Spring Lake.

My view and understanding of Donnie is just but a sliver of the depth and breadth of his life and impact on Greenwood. If he affected me this much, just think of how many more stories could be told. It would fill books and books.

When my father died suddenly while jogging at 65, the Brocks were heartbroken. We all cried and grieved together for days, weeks, months and years. The Brocks became a support system for my mother, without which she may have not survived and lived another healthy and happy 18 years.

I was devastated over my father’s death. But Donnie and Patty were there by my side, giving me advice, encouraging me, telling me how proud my father would be of me, lifting me up.

When my mother died, I saw less of the Brocks. They were busy with 10 grandchildren. I was busy with my own family and business challenges. Life changes like that.

But as we pray and mourn together and support each other in our profound loss, I am reminded that certain bonds, once forged, can never be broken.

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