Late mayor remembered for commitment to Jackson

Published 3:53 am Thursday, May 14, 2009

Late Jackson Mayor Frank Melton was remembered during a memorial service Tuesday as a larger-than-life personality who dedicated himself to helping others.

The flamboyant former television executive died May 7 at the age of 60. At the time, Melton was facing a second federal trial related to the sledgehammer destruction of a duplex he considered a crack house.

At the crowded ceremony in a Jackson auditorium, however, Melton was remembered for generosity, mentoring troubled youth and fighting illegal drugs.

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His adult son, Matthew, recited the words of Theodore Roosevelt.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better,” Matthew Melton said. “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood … if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

Melton came to Mississippi from Tyler, Texas, in the 1980s to take over Jackson NBC affiliate WLBT-TV. His wife, Ellen, a pediatrician, and their two children stayed behind. Melton had said he didn’t intend to stay in Jackson but he fell in love with the city and wanted to make it a better place. He unofficially adopted dozens of troubled kids over the years.

Melton collapsed at his home shortly after the polls closed May 5 in Jackson’s Democratic primary. Melton finished third in the balloting, but aides said he never knew the results of the election.

Matthew Melton said there were times when he didn’t understand why his father would spend so much time with other children, but now he does. The younger Melton said over the last few days he had an opportunity to spend time with some of the young men his father mentored.

“My dad took care of those kids and in my time of need, they came back and took care of me,” he said.

Melton first made a name for himself with a commentary on the nightly news called “The Bottom Line” in which named suspected criminals on the air and lambasted city officials. He even posted pictures of drug dealers on billboards. “And that, my friends, is the bottom line,” became his catch phrase.

He also volunteered at an inner city YMCA and gave speeches at schools across the state. He was the city’s most recognizable personality by the time he was elected in 2005 on the promise to clean up city.

But his unorthodox crime fighting tactics, including participating in police activities and the vigilante style duplex raid, landed him in trouble. Melton had said he was only trying to clean up the city and many Jackson residents took him at his word.

His brother, Rodney Melton, said he hopes the federal government will move on and let Jackson heal.

A federal trial ended in mistrial in February when the jury couldn’t reach a verdict. The second trial had been scheduled to start this week. Melton had already been acquitted of state charges related to the raid.