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Yvonne L. Rayford Brown

1952 - 2012 Obituary Condolences Gallery
(News article) TCHULA, Miss. -- A woman who grew up in Toledo and was elected to two terms as mayor of a small town in her parents' native Mississippi, Yvonne L. Rayford Brown died of cancer April 23 in Baptist Memorial Hospital, Columbus, Miss. She was 59.

She learned she had cancer in February, 2011, her sister LaVonne said. Until about a year ago, she was Lowndes County director of the Mississippi Department of Human Services, a post she'd held since 2009.

Ms. Brown was elected to two terms as mayor of Tchula, population nearly 2,100, according to the 2010 Census, and served from 2001-2009.

She was the first black Republican female mayor in Mississippi, according to the Clarion-Ledger newspaper in Jackson, Miss.

"In the state of Mississippi, that was a big to-do. She was a poster child for the party. They needed that very much," her sister said. "She was intelligent [and] a very good communicator."

She was a delegate to the 2004 Republican National Convention. She was a Republican candidate for Congress in 2006, unsuccessfully challenging the Democratic incumbent, Bennie Thompson.

Her parents, Hilda and Bennie Rayford, were educators in the Toledo Public Schools. In Toledo, Mr. Rayford -- who died in January, 2010 -- was active in the Democratic Party and was a local coordinator for Jesse Jackson's 1984 presidential campaign. The couple moved back to Mississippi in the late 1980s, but "the Democrats didn't receive him so well," daughter LaVonne said. He switched party affiliation. Ms. Brown identified with a Republican Party that in the late 19th and early 20th centuries had widespread black support, her sister said.

She was mayor when Tchula won federal funding for water, sewer, and street construction. The city also built a municipal building and created or improved recreational facilities.

She was born Sept. 8, 1952, in Chicago. She grew up on Mackow Drive in Toledo and was a 1970 graduate of Rogers High School.

She formerly worked for Monroe Auto Equipment in Monroe; Irvin Automotive in Greenwood, Miss., and Pharmacy Corp. of America in Dallas.

She was a former member of Third Baptist Church in Toledo and Maumee Baptist Church and was honored in 1987 by Professional Women in Christ. With her former husband, Robert Brown, she co-founded Grace Community Church in Tchula.

She also was formerly married to Russell Barnett.

Surviving are her daughters, Nichole Barnett and Aliya Barnett; mother, Hilda Rayford, and sisters, LaVonne "Pye" Rayford Chestang and Gail Rayford Ambeau.

Funeral services will be at 10 a.m. Saturday in New Jerusalem Church, Jackson, Miss. Arrangements are by Century Funeral Home, Yazoo City, Miss.

The family suggests tributes to Bennie Lee Rayford Endowment at Alcorn State University Foundation Inc., Alcorn, Miss.

Contact Blade staff writer Mark Zaborney at mzaborney@theblade.com
Published in Toledo Blade on May 4, 2012
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