Coffee with Corey: From Fortune 500 to Steel Magnolias

By Corey Poole

From working as the VIP of a Fortune 500 Company to living his own version of Steel Magnolias, Parish President John Richmond explained two pieces of philosophy that he follows in his life. The first quote comes from Edward Everett Hale, a Unitarian pastor from the 1800s.

“Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success.”

Collaboration can be hard, but it’s the core of impactful decisions that affect citizens on the local level. You don’t always get to choose who you work with, but at the end of the day you should be working toward what’s in the best interest of the Parish as a whole.

“I’m proud of the Parish Council,” Richmond said. “Everyone tends to focus more on the drama. Believe me, I hear about it, but what matters at the end of the day is the scoreboard. When we can make a difference, it’s worthwhile.”

The biggest challenge he faced serving as public works director for the Parish for one year before becoming Parish President was realizing how the people in rural Northwest Louisiana feel.

It’s difficult for residents to watch the roads deteriorate or to beat their vehicles up driving over them. While it’s a hard pill to swallow, the Home Rule Charter requires the Parish Government prioritize roads based on overall traffic. Roads that are travelled the most or roads that service the greatest number of people get maintained first.

So what’s the end goal? Well, everything is related. The Parish has to work to maintain and repair roads that get people to the safest roads possible (Interstate-49 and state highways). Another factor taken into consideration is providing residents with easy access to grocery stores when they live in food desert areas. This means that Hart Road was repaired because it connects Hwy. 9 and Hwy. 480 and leads to Hwy. 71. Harmony Road connects to Hwy. 478 and Hwy. 117. Fish Hatchery connects to Hwy. 1 or into the City. Bermuda Road connects to Hwy. 494 and Hwy. 119.

John explained that this mode of maintenance will continue as “triage” over the next few decades as the Parish works to overcome the repercussions of decisions that were made over the last 30+ years.

While no one wants higher taxes, John said the $3 million budget for the highway department will never fix all the roads. For example, a 16-foot wide asphalt road (recently overlaid on Fish Hatchery) costs $400,000 per mile (post Covid).

John feels that until the Parish gets educated and listens to what the numbers are saying, all that’s left is to administer the budget to the best of their ability.

“These residents have been forgotten and there’ve been a lot of people who couldn’t see a solution,” he said. “The only solution that exists is the one we create. Some people want to make it all about the roads when it should be about the community, the kids, our families, and our friends. When we focus on that first, it only makes it easier to fix the roads.”

This brings us to another quote by Pastor Hale:

“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”

When first elected, John quickly realized it wouldn’t be as easy as riding in like a white knight and fixing everything. Now, coming up on three years in office, John is thankful for his 25+ years of business and industrial experience dealing with natural disasters, customers in crisis, and bringing infrastructure solutions to municipalities.

Natchitoches Parish has 450 dirt and gravel roads and more dilapidated paved roads than that. Partnerships with the Cane River Waterway Commission and the Red River Waterway Commission help with road projects including Hart, Harmony, Fish Hatchery, Bermuda and Hampton Road, which took place in 2019, right as John was coming into office.

“It’s been fun to watch and be a part of all this as it happens,” he said.

He’ll continue to look for other partnerships as the Parish Highway Department has put hundreds of thousands more yards of material on the roads with fewer people and a smaller budget than ever.

“And I’m not proud of that,” he added. “I’m just trying to find better ways to serve the people of Natchitoches Parish.”

John is also passionate about seeing the hard work put in by the Fire, Water and School boards as he’s passionate about safety, clean water, and the education system, which is a vibrant part of the communities throughout the Parish.

“I’m not directly involved in any of these as Parish President,” John explained. “I might be able to offer my advice and expertise for decision making, or I might find that I’m unable to solve their problems, but at the end of the day, I care.”

Outside of his government job, John and his wife Kathy are entrepreneurs. They run a restaurant, a B&B and a real estate brokerage.

“It was just a natural extension of who we are,” John explained. “It’s about serving the people who come to Natchitoches, whether they’re locals or tourists. It’s a great place to live and work and raise a family.”

The couple’s first visit to Natchitoches was in early June of 2010 as they were driving to Shreveport for a Sugarland concert. Originally from Alexandria, John knew of the Christmas Festival in Natchitoches, but his wife wondered if it was as cute as it looked in the Steel Magnolias movie.

There was only one way to find out and as John pulled off at Exit 138, Kathy fell in love. An appropriate case of serendipity led them to turn around in the parking lot of the Sweet Cane Inn (then known as the Breazeale House B&B) after driving through the Historic District.

Heading back toward the interstate, they agreed to return for Christmas. Knowing how accommodations booked quickly for the holiday season, John turned the car around and went right back to the B&B.

One room was available for one weekend during the Christmas Festival.

John and Kathy soon discovered that the owners, Jack and Willa Friedman, were in their 70s and looking to get out from underneath the demands of the B&B. As John and Kathy started visiting Natchitoches from Baton Rouge every few weeks, they eventually ended up committing to purchasing the property from the Breazeales.

“Everything that could have been an obstacle just melted away,” John explained.

Two years later a casual comment about one day owning a restaurant led to the purchase of the property formerly known as Sea & Sirloin and Antoon’s.

“You hear about southern hospitality, but it’s just different here,” said John. “Be careful what you wish for in Natchitoches and only say it out loud if you want this town to make it a reality because someone is going to hear you and someone is going to help you.”

With three businesses and the job of Parish President, how does John manage it all? It’s easy when you have no work/life balance.

John’s parents were business owners. His father was a contractor and his mother was the receptionist, bookkeeper, and bill payer. It was only natural that business came up as a topic of conversation at all times of the day, even at the dinner table.

“I’ve never seen it as a pendulum to balance,” John said. “It’s always just blended together, like gumbo. It’s life.”

When asked when he would relax, John’s father was known to reply, “I don’t know how to do that.”

John took this sentiment to heart. If you like what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. Even if that includes a call to fix a clogged toilet at 10 o’clock at night.

Or in John’s case, missing a Wayne Toups concert you’ve been dreaming about for around 30 years. As the Grammy award winning singer was introduced on stage in Natchitoches one year, John got a phone call that a clogged sewer line was affecting his businesses.

“Every day’s not fun, but they’re all good,” he added with a chuckle.

John and Kathy compare their schedules on a daily basis and rely a great deal on their managers to help run their businesses. This includes their son Brad for Maglieux’s, Kimberly for the Sweet Cane Inn, and Tiffany for the Remax side of things.

Now add community involvement into the mix. John supports First Baptist Church, the Natchitoches Jazz Festival, the JROTC and CAPA Programs at Northwestern State University, the Norwela Council of the Boy Scouts of America, and sits on the Natchitoches Regional Medical Center’s Board. Kathy also sits on the NRMC Foundation Board.

“If you feel unfulfilled, it’s because you haven’t tried yet,” John said. “There’s a place for everyone to plug in here and I love that about Natchitoches.”

While John doesn’t hunt or fish, he does love to play and listen to music, in case the Wayne Toups story didn’t give it away. His all-time favorite band is Tower of Power. The thing he misses the most is having the time to play with other musicians.

John also believes that relationships mean a lot in small towns, so he and Kathy have a tribe of friends who have become family.

Looking to the future, John has a little over a year left as Parish President. His short term goal is to run for reelection as Parish President so he can continue serving the people in Natchitoches Parish.

“I don’t do the job [Parish President] for the money,” he added. “I do it because I love the people and the parish.”

In the longer term, John said you’ve got to be tired to retire and he’s not tired yet.

Ending with a piece of advice, John said that we have to look to ourselves and think about the future generations as we try to make a difference in small town USA. Voting is the best way to accomplish change, so register, go to the polls and make your voice heard.

John Richmond & Corey Poole