Leslie Lampton’s life showed value of free enterprise

By WYATT EMMERICH,

Within the span of a couple of weeks, the Northside lost the patriarch and matriarch of one of our most prominent families, the Lamptons.

Leslie B. Lampton was founder of Ergon, which has 2,600 employees in Mississippi, 29 other states, and several other countries. Dorothy Lee Crum Lampton was his wife for 69 years.

Dot Lee was in my Sunday school class at Covenant Presbyterian Church. She was the epitome of a Southern lady — dignified, warm, kind and strong.

They leave behind four sons, Leslie, Lee, Bill and Robert and their spouses, 10 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. The Lampton family is an important part of our community. We all share their grief.

With the passing of this great couple, we should pause and reflect on their lives and legacy because it illustrates the essence of what is great about our country.

Mr. Lampton was a rich and powerful man. Yet in my 30 years living in Jackson, I never heard a single negative word about him. I heard countless people talk of his virtues. The fact that such a good and virtuous man could rise to the pinnacle of economic power shows what a blessing it is to live in a free society where honor and integrity can still prevail.

To quote his obituary: He was a friend to many, but he was most comfortable talking with his employees, the persons he acknowledged as the success behind Ergon. He had a knack for hiring good people. He supported his employees in taking risks necessary for businesses to succeed, whether entering new markets or developing new products. He always reminded the employees that it was not all about profits. Mr. Lampton believed that you had to enjoy what you were doing in order to be successful in life.

Mr. Lampton had a gift for remembering the names of his employees and knowing something about their families. He was generous and supported activities for the children of his employees, from establishing academic scholarships to buying Girl Scout cookies. He also supported worthwhile charitable organizations in the communities where Ergon has a presence. Countless medical, educational and religious organizations have been the beneficiaries of his altruism.

Mr. Lampton preferred not to seek any recognition for his charitable donations, telling others who wanted to use his name that he was just doing what the Lord asked all of us to do. Mr. Lampton was a member of the Catholic Church, and his faith was the guiding influence in his life.

Mr. Lampton did not inherit his wealth. He started from scratch with one truck hauling gas. Through hard work, ingenuity and providence, he built a company that gave employment to thousands of fellow citizens.

Do you think his story could have happened in Russia, China, Mexico or almost any other country in the world?

In Russia, you rise to power by crushing others and using political connections, ruthlessness and intimidation. In China, you rise to power by joining a dictatorial communist party that persecutes Christians and throws dissidents into jail. In Mexico, bribery, corruption and illegal smuggling are an integral part of business success.

What a blessing to live in a country where such high success is achieved by men such as Leslie Lampton.

No doubt some luck is involved. That’s why we should respect and support those entrepreneurs who try and fail. Even in failure, they are the engine of our economy.

 

Sadly, despite countless stories of success through honest hard work, envy and resentment still exist in our culture. There are many people who resent the wealthy and want to take their wealth through taxation.

Why is this? When an entrepreneur succeeds, it makes the world a better place. He creates jobs, wealth and prosperity. And it is done not through government coercion but from free people making free decisions in the marketplace.

In doing so, capital is created. This capital is then reinvested in innumerable other ways, either in the same company or other investments. More jobs are created. More economic activity ensues. Prosperity increases.

Yes, successful businessmen are then able to enjoy their success with a lifestyle that is better than most of us. Why not? Having benefitted society as a whole, why should successful people not enjoy some of the prosperity they have created for others?

To young people, communism may seem like something from the history books, but I can remember when it threatened to take over the world. In its rise and fall, communism killed more than 100 million innocent victims. It was a noxious ideology based on envy and resentment.

The fundamental tenet of communism was that capital was created by exploiting labor, thus inherently evil. Instead, government would allocate labor and resources to the benefit of all. It was a disaster.

Because instead of free people making free decisions about where to work and what to buy, communism relied on government officials to make these decisions. Not only was this grossly inefficient, it allowed enormous concentration of power, which was quickly corrupted by the sinful nature of man.

Communism failed because it was based on an incorrect premise: That people are basically good. Christianity and free enterprise has prevailed because it is based on a correct premise: People are basically sinful and self interested.

Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” of capitalism combined with the divine accountability of Christianity has created a society and nation like no other in history — one worth actually living in, which is a stark contrast to abject suffering of most of human history.

This is not to say that government doesn’t have an integral role in our society. It does. We need laws. We need regulations. If oil monopolies had been allowed to crush upstart competitors, Ergon could not have grown and thrived.

But laws should protect the free market, not destroy it.

No doubt there are some crass billionaires out there who flaunt their wealth with gargantuan yachts and fly private jets with gold-encrusted toilet fixtures.

But there are far more Leslie Lamptons out there who humbly work hard, use their skills, get some lucky breaks and play a fundamental role in leading our nation to prosperity.

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St. Andrew’s Episcopal School recently held the 2018 Honors Day Assembly, recognizing students’ accomplishments over the course of the school year.