Countless labels describe Clarksdale, Mississippi native Bill Luckett: attorney, public servant, entrepreneur, businessman, actor, producer, pilot, fisherman, professor, blues club owner, philanthropist, community leader, civil rights advocate, and proponent of the arts and music. All of those apply, but Bill Luckett was, first and foremost, a loving father and grandfather, a devoted husband, a cherished friend, and a true son of the Mississippi Delta and of his beloved Clarksdale, upon which Bill has left an indelible mark through his tireless efforts to revitalize the city and create opportunities for all people.
Bill’s love for Clarksdale — and his relentless optimism for his hometown as a growing and thriving community of artists, musicians, entrepreneurs, builders, and innovators — is exemplified by a line in his favorite poem, “If,” by Rudyard Kipling,
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the earth and everything that’s in it…
Bill Luckett was elected Mayor of Clarksdale — by a landslide — in 2013. From that moment, he never let a minute pass without thinking of the possibilities and opportunities for the community he so loved.
Bill was a one-man welcoming committee and cheerleader for his hometown, never missing a chance to bring more people, more artists, and more tourists to Clarksdale. Bill spoke eloquently of the Delta’s richness and diversity. Many evenings Bill would be on stage at Ground Zero Blues Club welcoming visitors by name and origin and then reciting his favorite piece of “gratuitous graffiti” scrawled inside the men’s stall at the world-renowned venue he co-owned with his friend and business partner Morgan Freeman: In his grand baritone voice, “The Mississippi Delta, where cotton is king, corn liquor is queen. Every night is Saturday night; everyday is payday. Two vacations a year – 6 months a piece. The richest land, the greatest people.”
William O. “Bill” Luckett was born on March 17, 1948, in Fort Worth, Texas and moved to Clarksdale, Mississippi at six-weeks-old. Bill passed peacefully Thursday night in Oxford, Mississippi surrounded by his family and listening to his favorite song, America’s “A Horse with No Name”. He was 73-years-old.
Bill is survived by his wife of 37 years, Francine Gardner; his son, Oliver Luckett; son-in-law, Scott Guinn of Clarksdale; daughter, Whitney Luckett; son-in-law, Scott Trimble; grandson, William Oliver Trimble of Memphis, Tennessee; stepson, Park Dodge; and stepdaughter, Douglas Dunavant and her children Buchanan, Gardner, Mary Wilkes, and Lucy Dunavant.
Bill Luckett’s legacy will live on through his grown children Oliver and Whitney Luckett and Park Dodge, who recall the valuable life lessons and skills that their father taught them: always be early; always follow through no matter how big your vision is; how to push the paint with your brush along a joint; to swing a hammer against a ten-penny nail; cut wood on a table saw; crank a go-cart; start a chainsaw; mix mortar and to lay brick; hook a cricket and drop a line from a cane pole; skin a bream and enjoy the crisp snap of it’s fin after a hot fish fry; shoot a twenty gauge shotgun; call a turkey; fly a kite; build a rocket; shoot fireworks; swing an axe; swing a tennis racquet; swing from a tree; respect nature; pick up litter; to always be fair; to go through the doors that serendipity opens; and how to appreciate the importance of art in all aspects of life.
Luckett was a 1966 graduate of Clarksdale High School, where he was a member of the Beta Club and served as president of his senior class. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in American Government from the University of Virginia in 1970, where he graduated on the Dean’s List and was president of the Kappa Alpha fraternity. He graduated from the University of Mississippi Law School in 1973. And, in May 2002, Luckett was awarded an honorary degree from Coahoma Community College, where for several years he chaired its annual scholarship golf tournament. Bill practiced law with Luckett Tyner Law Firm, P.A. as a member of the Mississippi and Tennessee bars.
Luckett was in every sense a Renaissance Man, constantly curious and always learning. He was progressive, not just in his politics, but also in his constant pursuit of great art, music, design, and film. In his later years, Luckett produced and had acting roles in dozens of films, many that took place in the Mississippi Delta. His film work included Poison Rose, Paradise Highway, Time Boys, Vanquish, Texas Heart, Battlecreek, Blunt Force, Last of the Mississippi Jukes, Delta Rising, On the Road in America, Mighty Mississippi, On the Trail of the Blues, American Homeplace, All About Us, and, of course, Attack of the Southern Fried Zombies.
Bill was a frequent lecturer at attorney seminars and a frequent speaker for civic clubs, tourist groups, and universities. His speech, “A Look Inside the Delta”, was recorded on DVD for distribution.
Bill was a Lifetime Member of the NAACP and was honored in 2005 with the May Fest Trailblazer of the Year Award for his outstanding and significant contribution to diversity and racial reconciliation. Other honors include Delta State University 2007 Delta Regional Heritage Champion and Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi 2008 Man of the Year.
Luckett served on the Executive Council of the Association of Defense Trial Attorneys, the Board of Directors of the Mississippi Hospitality & Restaurant Association, and the North Mississippi Advisory Board for Regions Bank. He served as president of Bayou Bend Golf & Country Club in Sumner, Mississippi and served as secretary of the Tallahatchie River Foundation, a non-profit organization, which supports education in the Mississippi Delta. He was president of Burke Hunting Club for years, a professor at the School of Law at Ole Miss, and served on the professional advisory board for ALSAC (St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee). He served on the Executive Committee (representing the State of Mississippi) of the Mississippi River Cities & Towns Initiative.
Bill attended St. George’s Episcopal Church in Clarksdale and proudly served his country as a member of the military in the Army Reserve. He was a veteran private airplane pilot with more than 3,000 hours in command of a Cessna 414 as well as a Cessna Citation S II. He was inducted into the Living Legends of Aviation in 2009.
In lieu of flowers, the Luckett family requests donations be made to Delta Arts District (143 Yazoo Avenue, Clarksdale, MS 38614), Clarksdale Care Station (318 Delta Avenue, Clarksdale, MS 38614), St. George’s Episcopal Church (106 Sharkey Ave, Clarksdale, MS 38614), or the Pinetop Perkins Foundation (P.O. Box 1916, Clarksdale, MS 38614).
And in lieu of a public funeral service, the Luckett family held a community celebration of the life for Bill Luckett on Tuesday, November 2 at Ground Zero Blues Club.