Former Stennis director Roy Estess dies

Published 6:22 pm Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Former Director of NASA Stennis Space Center, Roy Simmons Estess of Carriere died Friday evening at his camp in Tylertown. He was 71 years old.

He apparently had an allergic reaction to being stung by “bees.”

 Walthall County Coroner, Shannon Hartzog, says,  “Estess had been bush hogging on his tractor when he got stung by bees. Estess was able to make it back to his camp, where his wife was. He was later pronounced dead at the scene.”

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 Estess graduated in 1956 from Tylertown High School. He received a B.S. Degree in Aeronautical Engineering from Mississippi State University and an MBA from Harvard University. His career spanned 37 years with NASA, during which time he served as the Director of the Johnson Space Center and retired as the Director of the Stennis Space Center.

Stennis Space Center Director, Patrick Scheuermann, one of those whom Estess mentored when he was director at Stennis, issued a statement saying, “The NASA family has lost a pioneer of space exploration and a true hero. We mourn the loss of this great leader, mentor, and friend.”

Of his career with NASA and the Space Center, legislative affairs officer at Stennis and the NASA liaison for Infinity, Myron Webb had some insight on ways that Estess had left his mark on the industry. Infinity is the space center’s visitors center that was relocated to Interstate 10 during Estess’ stewardship at Stennis.

She says, “To know him was to love him. He believed that the greatness in the people of NASA was the foundation for a great NASA. He truly was an Icon with all of NASA and the aerospace community. His footprints are all over the path traveled to make Stennis Space Center the Federal City that it is today. International works of great significance take place here every day.”

“We have had calls today from all over the agency and the country about Roy Estess and how he touched people’s lives,” she said.

 Estess worked through his retirement on the steering committee for Infinity.

 The Infinity at NASA’s Stennis Space Center program vision statement reads:

“To create a new, state-of-the-art science center and visitor attraction that will inspire, amaze and engage those who visit. A place like no other, where curiosity is nurtured and discovery is rewarded — a place where we lose ourselves in the depths of the ocean and the farthest reaches of space.

 The goal is not to be another museum but a destination where visitors will explore our earth, oceans and space through deepening levels of involvement, ranging from traditional gallery tours, to hands-on experiments, to participation in activity-based “missions.””     

 Tommy Staten had worked with Estess on the Infinity program for the last 11 years. Through her tears, Staten describes him as, “A remarkable, multifaceted, genuine, approachable and dedicated leader. One that loved Mississippi, his family and NASA.”

She went on to say, “He rose through the ranks of NASA and achieved so many awards and much praise, but no matter what, he was still just Roy.”

  In addition to his stellar career, Estess was active in the community and with the Boy Scouts of America program.

 Mike Tischer, the District Executive of the Picayune/Poplarville Boy Scouts of America, said “Mr. Estess was a Distinguished Eagle Scout.” He said the criteria for a Distinguished Eagle Scout Award as having been an Eagle Scout for at least 25 years and having had an exceptional , distinguished career.  Tischer said, “only two to three of these awards are issued a year.”

Mark Formby of Formby Realty said that Estess was his Scout Master. Formby recalls, “For several hundred boys, Roy Estess was a mentor, friend and a second daddy.

“He was a campfire philosopher, meticulous wood carver and seldom carved an item that he did not immediately hand it over to some young man sitting with him around the flickering campfire, whose life he was trying to shape as he had shaped the wood,” he said.

“ Roy Estess was known from the highest office in the land to the lowest Cub Pack in the county and would have been more than a little embarrassed to think that someone would have noticed him,” Formby said.

 Visitation will be at Tylertown Baptist Church on Tuesday, June 29, 2010 from 12 Noon until 2 p.m. Funeral services immediately follow with the Rev. Dr. Raymond Leake and the Rev. Wayne Ward officiating. Interment will be at Tylertown Cemetery.

 Survivors include wife, Zann Willoughby Estess; his two children: Stephen A Estess (Cari) of Petal; and Mauri L. McKay (Marc) of Ridgeland; three grandchildren: Andrew Simmons Estess; Stephen Conner Estess; and Lauren Kathryn McKay. He is also survived by one brother, Ted L. Estess (Sybil) of Houston, Texas.

Memorials may be made to the Boy Scouts of America, PBAC, Hattiesburg.