When Tommy Chamblee was asked what is the one thing he would say, if he could turn back time and talk with his 17-year-old self, his reply was simple.
“Just enjoy it.”
Selected as this year’s Itawamba Agricultural High School (IAHS) Alumnus of the Year, the 1982 graduate admits the journey to his current position as CEO of Iuka-based First American Bank has been a strange one, filled with many twists and turns.
“I don’t think I have said ‘I wish I could go back,’” he said with a laugh.
Twenty-eight years ago, Chamblee was working the midnight shift on the block line at Mueller Copper Tube. Chamblee began to pray for something new, a day job that would get him off the long night hours.
He soon had the opportunity when a position with Tombigbee Electric Power Association (TEPA) opened. Although taking the job meant a $6 an hour cut in pay, he took it.
“It didn’t make a lot of sense to some at the time, but I just knew accepting the job was the right move,” he said.
As it turns out, that one decision spearheaded many others that led him to where he is today.
After working with TEPA for five years, a coworker suggested Chamblee run for 5th District Supervisor. An idea he wasn’t interested in at first. But as the deadline approached, he decided to take on the challenge.
Chamblee was the last candidate to enter the race. He faced six opponents, including a two-term incumbent. He won the election by 11 votes and was only 30 years old when he took office.
During the four years he served, the sitting board of supervisors worked with then Superintendent F.G. Wiygul and ICC Chancellor David Cole in efforts to move the high school from the ICC campus to its own. Included in the move was the purchase of enough land for the future Itawamba Attendance Center. They also voted to ‘top-out’ millage support for Itawamba Community College, prompting surrounding counties to do the same.
On a personal level, holding the position inspired Chamblee to complete his own college education, which he had begun years earlier. He enrolled at Ole Miss and graduated with a double major in Business and Banking and Finance.
“There’s two important things in life: attitude and opportunity,” he said. “God takes care of the opportunities; the attitude is up to you. I had the opportunity to complete my education, and I’ve always tried to approach everything with the right attitude.”
Choosing not to run for a second term as supervisor, Chamblee accepted a position as Employment Manager with Action-Lane Industries in Belden.
As the economic downturn was taking a toll on the furniture industry, Chamblee arrived at work one Friday morning to find he no longer had a job. He was going through a divorce at the time, and providing for his children were in the forefront of his mind.
“What I thought was the worst day of my life, turned out to be the best day of my life,” Chamblee said of the experience. “I was hired the following Tuesday at BancorpSouth.”
Chamblee had been working for BancorpSouth for more than four years when he was approached by First American about opening a branch in Fulton. He accepted the position, which ultimately led to his current seat as the bank’s chief executive officer.
“Tommy leads by example. He teaches our employees to always offer the best customer service possible every day,“ Charlotte Orick, Director of Marketing at First American Bank, said. “We are grateful to have him as our CEO and leader.”
Chamblee also completed LSU’s School of Banking. He currently serves as a member of the Executive Council of the United Way of North Mississippi. He is a member of Tupelo Chrisitan Preparatory School board, the Itawamba County Library board and serves as Group 1 Chairman for the State Executive Council of Mississippi Young Bankers.
He was selected as Itawamba County’s “Best Banker” in 2005, and 2007 through 2011.
When speaking of success, it’s not his own that sets a standard worthy of following. To Chamblee, it’s that of his parents, Bill and Emma Jean Chamblee.
“They were both janitors at Fulton Grammar School, they were well liked and respected,” Chamblee said. “My goal was never to be more successful than them, but to be AS successful as them.”
Chamblee resides in Fulton with his wife Rita. They are members of Tremont Baptist Church where he teaches Sunday School. Together they have six children and one grandchild.
In regards to the winding journey that led him to the position he holds today, Chamblee remains humble, perhaps even a touch in awe.
“I read once, ‘It’s only by the grace of God and living in America that these kind of things are possible,’” he said. “I have to agree.”