Many people know Debbie Gibbs, a native of Decatur. I knew her both at Clarke-Venable Baptist Church and while teaching at Newton County High School. That lady has been a blessing to all who have ever known her.
Deborah Ann Smith Gibbs was born in Greenwood, where her father Mr. N F Smith was employed as a teacher. He later became a principal then Superintendent of Education here in Decatur. Her mother, Bessie “Bet” Spence Smith was a stay-at-home mom who kept three to five children in her home for many years.
After the family returned home to Decatur, Debbie spent the first grade attending Decatur Elementary School, then second grade in Pearl when her father worked there for Mississippi Milk Producers. After attending third through twelfth grades in Decatur schools, Debbie graduated in 1973. She met Sydney Randell Gibbs from Newton at East Central Community College.
They both finished at ECCC before graduating from the University of Southern Mississippi, where they also earned their master’s degrees. Randy taught school a while then worked as a health inspector for the health department for many years before retirement. Debbie taught in Scott County for 13 years before teaching in the Newton County School System for the rest of a total of 34 years before her retirement. She was always known for her superb teaching of science classes—physics, chemistry, physical science and biology.
After Debbie finished USM in 1977, she and Randy were married in 1979. Their three daughters are Valerie Ann, born on July 6, 1985, Elise Marie, born on Oct. 9, 1989 and Ellen Joann, born on Nov. 1, 1991. Valerie, a Mississippi State graduate and an occupational therapist, is married to Michael McDonald from Binghamton, N. Y., where they currently reside. Their daughters are Lily Ann, who will be five in February, and Autumn Rose, born on April 22, 2020.
Elise, a graduate of Mississippi College, is married to Nick Bullock, from south Mississippi. In Nov. 2019, the young couple took over a church plant in Stuttgart, Germany. They have two boys, Haddon Christian, who just turned five in December, and Benjamin Knox, born on July 27, 2017. Debbie’s daughter Ellen, who graduated from ECCC and is near completion of her degree at USM, lives in Philadelphia. Her husband, Joseph A. Ward from Philadelphia, is a veterinarian assistant there. Their little boy, Joseph Allen Ward Jr. was born on May 14, 2017.
Debbie was brought up in church, as her parents were Christians. They lived close to and attended Clarke-Venable Memorial Baptist Church. She became a Christian when she was saved in her last year of Vacation Bible School in 1967, at about 11 years of age. She told me, “I remember a friend wanted me to go forward with her. I knew better than to do that. But the next day or so, I went up and the pastor talked to me… I made a public profession of faith at church the following Sunday and was baptized. When I was about 15, I think I really began to understand more about what Jesus had actually done for me.”
After their marriage, they at first attended Randy’s church Pine Bluff Baptist, moving to Clarke-Venable Baptist Church a little later. Debbie shared of how she taught VBS when she was a young mother and it was a two-week school. Concerning her service at church, she continued, “I got blessed beyond measure when I got to teach a class of older ladies. Every one of them are gone now to be with the Lord. I was teaching them, but really, they taught me. There were some sweet ladies in there. I grew so much during that time in my own faith.”
I asked about the hardest thing she had ever experienced, and she told of a serious car accident in 2008. She and Ellie were hit from behind and thrown into the oncoming lane, where another car hit them. Ellie suffered a broken femur and blood clots; Debbie’s hip was broken, her lung collapsed and her left knee injured. Spending over a month in the hospital, she had to have three surgeries on her hip. Her Bible was a great comfort to her after she felt up to reading.
Debbie has had other surgeries, with a shoulder replacement taking place in October this year, when there was a little break between the Covid-19 spikes. Randy was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when he was eight and is now 66. They recently returned to his home church of Pine Bluff Baptist, which is near their home in Newton. Before the pandemic, Debbie enjoyed teaching a teenage girls’ class there, and I know many have enjoyed the inspiring Facebook posts she has written throughout the holiday season.
Debbie shared a lot of her memories of growing up in Decatur. “I liked growing up in a small town…It was safe. We could play outside with no worries at all.” She told of how she enjoyed riding her neighbor’s horse and pony and commented, “I never had a horse, but I love seeing them to this day.”
She recalled, “I lived across from the school campus. At that time, the track and long jump pit and pole vaulting/high jump pit was right across the street, where the new ECCC dorms are. We all had fun running and jumping and playing over there. Mr. and Mrs. Thrash had some cane poles. I got pretty good at pole vaulting over bushes.”
“One of my friends had baseball equipment. I felt like a big leaguer, all dressed up in the catcher’s gear. A little bull got out and chased us down—kinda hard to run in catcher’s gear! We also had pickup games of football and basketball…I enjoyed participating in sports as long as I could.”
Debbie also told of two grocery stores in town, Jitney Jungle and Jordan’s, as well as a place called Gresset’s, where she biked to pick up donuts for their Sunday breakfast. She sang in the youth choir and said, “My love for Christian music started developing at that time.”
To continue, “We would play bicycle chase…which involved trying to hit each other with a rolled-up newspaper.” She remembered skating and having an accident using a skateboard on the hill by the ECCC Library.” She loved reading books written for kids at the town library.
“We had a swimming pool, too…I learned to swim there…I took a lifesaving course and was the lifeguard for several years…Coach Clark taught me how to teach kids to swim and it worked! …I started thinking about becoming a teacher at that time.”
Debbie concluded, “The values and faith in God came from my parents, family, church and school, and the example of friends and neighbors in this small town of Decatur.” Now Debbie Gibbs is one of those to whom people look to as a good example.
Live for Jesus! He’s coming soon! You may contact me at [email protected]