Mississippi State University has selected one of its most successful alumni as its 2015 National Alumnus of the Year. Receiving the highest honor bestowed on a Bulldog graduate by the MSU Alumni Association is Earnest W. “Earnie” Deavenport Jr. He is an esteemed chemical engineer who makes an impact through the university like few others. MSU provided Deavenport with a great foundation for a prestigious career. He graduated with a bachelor of science in chemical engineering in 1960 and is now known as a visionary leader in business and industry.
Deavenport was born in the Mississippi town of Macon in 1938. His parents, Earnest William Deavenport Sr. and Laura Mae Deavenport, were lifelong residents of Noxubee County. The couple owned and operated a Western Auto store and garage where their young son was given an early start in business.
For Deavenport, education has been a lifelong experience. During his college days at Mississippi State, he worked as a bookkeeper for the Kappa Alpha fraternity to earn room and board. He was among those student members instrumental in securing the signatures to originally build the house on campus. Years later, as an alumnus, he would help the fraternity secure contributions to renovate and expand the building.
Well into his career, Deavenport earned a master of science in management degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1985. In 2000, he received an honorary doctor of law from King College in Bristol, Tennessee. Then in 2011, Deavenport was selected by Mississippi State for an honorary doctor of science degree for lifelong contributions in the business and engineering fields.
It was his MSU bachelor’s degree that garnered Deavenport a position with the chemical division of Eastman Kodak Co. in Kingsport, Tennessee. A number of managerial positions would follow and he became president of the firm’s Carolina Eastman Division in 1982. By 1989, Deavenport was group vice president of Eastman Kodak and would serve in that role until 1994 when he became chairman of the board and CEO of Eastman Chemical Co. as the result of the spin-off of Eastman from Kodak to form a publicly held company. In the coming years, Deavenport would take Eastman Chemical global and achieve international recognition as a tireless industry leader until his retirement in 2002.
Following retirement, Deavenport served on the boards of Eastman Kodak Company and Eastman Chemical Company. From 2010 through 2013, he added another role to his extensive resume, as he became chairman of the board for Regions Financial Corp.
Over the years, Deavenport has devoted his time and financial resources to MSU. He is serving in his third term as vice president of the MSU Foundation board and is a member of the Dean’s Advisory Council for the James Worth Bagley College of Engineering.
Deavenport is joined in his philanthropy by his wife, Mary Ann, a Bay Springs native. The couple met at Eastman Kodak and married in 1962. They currently reside in Kiawah Island, South Carolina. They have two children, Lisa and Scott, and four grandchildren.
The Deavenports have a strong desire to see their home state and its flagship research university succeed. At MSU, they created the Earnest W. and Mary Ann Deavenport Jr. Chair, an endowed position held by the dean of engineering. A second endowed position, the Earnest W. Deavenport Jr. Chair, directs the Dave C. Swalm School of Chemical Engineering. The position was established by the Eastman Chemical Corp. in honor of Deavenport’s lifelong contributions to education and the chemical industry. A scholarship endowment established by them memorializes Earnie’s parents.
On a number of occasions, MSU has recognized Deavenport. His honors include induction into the MSU Chemical Engineering Hall of Fame; a selection as Alumni Fellow of the James Worth Bagley College of Engineering; and a Distinguished Engineering Fellow selection in observance of the 100th anniversary of engineering.
The culmination of recognition for Deavenport at his alma mater now includes the university’s highest honor bestowed upon a graduate. The life and legacy of Deavenport are forever entwined with Mississippi State as its 2015 National Alumnus of the Year.