You might say that Jackson is Mississippi in microcosm. This self-proclaimed “city with soul” celebrates both the state’s past and its present with zeal, from the gracious Southern homes to the deeply rooted blues culture and prolific arts scene. On the cusp of an urban renaissance, Jackson is dedicated to preserving Mississippi’s multilayered history while forging a fresh and sassy new spirit.
Deborah Bryant, Mississippi’s First Lady and a native of west Jackson, has enjoyed a ringside seat for the city’s evolution. Although she doesn’t recall touring the Governor’s Mansion as a child—and certainly never dreamed she’d one day live there—it has been a constant presence through the decades, figuring prominently in key memories. “I learned to parallel park in front of the mansion—it was a little intimidating,” Deborah says with a laugh.
She was equally intimidated during her first visits to the house when her husband, Governor Phil Bryant, was rising through the political ranks. As First Lady, she has made it a priority to put guests at ease as soon as they step through the door. “I want everyone to feel like they can come up and just talk to us, and they do,” she says. “It was important to make people feel at home, especially in the people’s home.”
Improving the mansion has been a pillar of the Bryants’ tenure. “It’s the responsibility of the [current] family to leave it better than you found it,” Deborah says. At the time they moved in, recurrent ductwork and plumbing issues had taken their toll, and the 1842 structure looked every year of its age. Thanks to donations, along with the help of son Patrick, an interior designer, Deborah and Phil have restored the house to its full magnificence. Deborah urges locals and visitors alike to stop by and see the changes, and she delights in giving them a top-to-bottom tour, from the upstairs bedrooms to the garden where the Bryants’ grandson celebrated his first birthday.
Still, there’s one vantage point that belongs to the Bryants alone. On the night of the “blood moon” in 2015, Deborah crept out to the rooftop to snap photos of the spectacle and marvel at the sweep of city lights below. “I saw the entire city at night— that was so surreal,” she says. “The area is so beautiful.” Read more of our chat with First Lady Deborah Bryant.