The story of an influential city figure came to an end Sunday, and those who knew him remember him fondly.
Baker Gunter Jr., 77, of Gulfport, a former mayor of McComb, died Nov. 17, 2019. He was married to Kay Gunter.
Mayor Gunter was a McComb selectman for 10 years before being elected to the chief executive office of the city in late 1986. He took office in January 1987 and oversaw much of the development now characteristic of McComb.
Gunter was born in McComb and attended McComb public schools, graduating from McComb High School in 1960.
While serving as mayor, Gunter oversaw significant development across the city. Among other things, Gunter advocated for the annexation of Baertown nearly a decade before the city took that decision and in 1990 argued the city needed a full-time mayor with board veto power.
His term in office saw the creation and organization of the Pike County Economic Development District, which came into being in 1988, and the construction of the Ambulatory Surgery Center at Southwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center the same year.
Mayor Gunter was especially dedicated to local economic development and worked for a year in advance to bring the Miss Mississippi USA pageant to McComb in 1988. He persuaded selectmen to authorize spending for the festival by arguing the expense was a good investment for the city, anticipating high returns including increased local spending and positive publicity.
He presided over City Hall during a time of rapid change in McComb. Over his first year in office, sales tax revenue increased significantly. He credited the success of the Edgewood Mall.
While Gunter was mayor, former city selectman and current mayor Quordiniah Lockley presented legendary Pike County native and musician Bo Diddley with the key to the city during a live broadcast at WAPF studios.
“We worked well together at that time because we served on the city board together,” Mayor Lockley said.
Lockley said Gunter was dedicated to addressing the most pressing needs of the city.
“He had a love for the City of McComb,” Lockley said. “A love for the citizens of the city.”
Lockley said Gunter represented McComb honorably.
“As a statesman for the City of McComb, he really exhibited that character,” Lockley said. “He was certainly a statesman.”
Former mayor and city selectman Ronnie Wilkinson said he remembers Gunter as a close friend and respected leader of McComb.
“Baker and I were friends since high school,” Wilkinson said. “He was a really upbeat guy with a great sense of humor.”
Wilkinson was elected to serve as mayor in 1990 to replace Gunter. He said they worked together with the city board to purchase a new fire truck for the fire department, then under the leadership of Chief Richard Coghlan, now Pike County Civil Defense Director. That move helped improve the city fire rating.
“He was a great guy,” Wilkinson said.
Former mayor, Congressman and current Pike County attorney Wayne Dowdy said McComb meant something special to Gunter.
“He grew up here in McComb,” Dowdy said. “The city was very important to him.”
Dowdy said Gunter was a dedicated public servant who put the interests of the community before his own.
“He was a good mayor,” Dowdy said. “Very active in the community, and the people liked him.”
Dowdy said after Gunter moved to Gulfport, just a few years after serving a term as mayor, he would often make the trip south to visit with his friend and former colleague on the coast. He said Gunter always asked Dowdy about current events in McComb and for updates on the people he grew up around.
“He was a wonderful, kind human being,” Dowdy said. “I really enjoyed working with him at City Hall.”