OXFORD, Miss. – The Ole Miss Chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame will honor Billy and Mollie Van Devender of Jackson, Miss., with its Distinguished American Award and Jesse Mitchell, also of Jackson, with the Contribution to Amateur Football Award here Saturday night, Nov. 23, when No. 24 Ole Miss hosts No. 8 Missouri. Kickoff for the ESPN national telecast is set for 6:45 at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium/Hollingsworth Field.
The Distinguished American Award is presented by the Ole Miss Chapter to individuals who have set the standards for excellence in a life of service to the community, while the Contribution to Amateur Football Award is given in honor of those who have made numerous contributions to the college athletics world through service to their fellow man.
"We are pleased to honor these three individuals for their contributions to Ole Miss athletics," said Richard Noble of Indianola, Miss., president of the Ole Miss Chapter. "They are most deserving of this recognition, and having an on-campus salute provides an excellent opportunity to express our sincere appreciation for all they have done for Ole Miss."
After earning three letters at the Monster Man position for Coach John Vaught’s Ole Miss football team (1968-70), Billy Van Devender graduated from The University of Mississippi with a Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering in 1971. He received his MBA in 1973 from Southern Methodist University, and then joined the Central Intelligence Agency.
After four years with the CIA, he moved back to Mississippi to begin his business career, which began in the oil and gas industry, followed by investments in real estate development and the forest product industry where his family is primarily in timber management and lumber manufacturing.
He has contributed a substantial amount of philanthropic work to his community, having served as Commissioner of the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality since 1998 and joining the board of the Mississippi Fish and Wildlife Foundation in 1997. He has served on the board of Mississippi's Young Life organization and the Mississippi Baptist Health System.
Billy also is an active board member of But God Ministries, an organization that works to build sustainable living communities in Haiti and a member and Deacon at First Baptist Church of Jackson. In past years, Billy has been a member of the Young Presidents' Organization, the World Forestry Center and the Chief Executive Organization.
During his football playing days at Ole Miss, he helped lead the Rebels to a 22-10-1 record and three bowl games (Liberty, Sugar and Gator), including a 27-22 victory over Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl to finish the 1969 season 8-3 overall and earn a No. 8 ranking in the final polls.
Mollie Van Devender competed in and won the honor of Miss Mississippi in 1975. She is a member of the Junior League of Jackson and a past chair of Mistletoe Marketplace. Mollie served as Arts Commissioner for the state of Mississippi from 1997-2002 and is a past board member of the Museum of Natural Science, the Wilson Research Center, the American Cancer Society and the Cancer League of Jackson, where she also served as president of the board.
She is a member of the University of Virginia Parents Committee, and currently serves on the Board of Stratford Hall, the historic birthplace of Robert E. Lee. An active member of the board of Jackson Preparatory School, where she has served since 2006, Mollie is chair of Prep's current capital campaign, Transforming Prep - Celebrating Arts and Leadership.
Mollie and Billy enjoy traveling, visiting friends and spending time with their four children – daughters Laura (Mrs. Tommy Stansell) and Anne (Mrs. Jack Stanton) and sons William (Meredith) and Clinton Van Devender – and precious grandchildren. Billy is an avid golfer and duck hunter. Mollie is a skilled big game hunter, and has recently acquired The Onward Store located in Onward, Miss., which is the birthplace of Theodore Roosevelt's Teddy Bear.
Jesse Mitchell is the founding partner of The Mitchell Firm. Considered one of the most well-rounded, unique and diverse litigators in the Southeast, he was honored by Super Lawyers as a “Rising Star” – an honor that is bestowed on less than 2.5 percent of the attorneys in Mississippi, Arkansas and Tennessee combined. He is one of very few litigators in the country that holds a Series 7 and Series 63 securities broker license.
Mitchell, who earned his Bachelor of Accountancy and Juris Doctorate from the University of Mississippi, was decorated with numerous accolades and awards for his academic leadership and for his success on the football field as a defensive end.
After being redshirted his true freshman year in 1999, Mitchell’s collegiate career saw him letter four times (2000-03), while helping Coach David Cutcliffe’s Rebels participate in three bowl games, including an Independence Bowl win over Nebraska and a Cotton Bowl victory over Oklahoma State. The win over Oklahoma State capped a 10-3 season in 2003 when Ole Miss and LSU were Co-Champions of the SEC Western Division.
Mitchell’s senior year in 2003 saw him named to the Associated Press All-Southeastern Conference first team as Ole Miss finished No. 13 in the final national rankings. Other honors of note included receiving the 2003 John Howard Vaught Award of Excellence, presented to honor the senior athlete who exemplifies the qualities of dedication, scholastic ability, morale and performance, and the 2003 J. Richard Price Courage and Compassion Award, which also included a scholarship in his name for the University of Mississippi.
Mitchell signed a contract with the Baltimore Ravens, but injuries sidelined his football career and sent him on his path to law school.
After graduating from law school, Mitchell was offered positions with two of the most successful plaintiff firms in the country. However, he decided to take a different route which has ultimately brought him full-circle back to a practice that is primarily focused on representing plaintiffs.
Mitchell is a member of various boards of directors associated with the University of Mississippi, including the University of Mississippi Alumni Association Board of Directors and the University of Mississippi Law School Board of Directors. He is also the current president of the University of Mississippi’s M-Club Alumni Chapter.
Jesse and his wife, Darrilyn, live in Brandon, Miss., with their two sons – Jayden and Chase.
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