Michael Raff, 64, is a legend in Mississippi. Born and raised in Sioux City, Iowa, Raff attended Notre Dame until his junior year, completing a BA and master's degree in theology at Immaculate Conception Seminary in Missouri. In the summer of 1966, he traveled to Jackson to work in the Civil Rights Movement, intending to stay only one summer. He wound up falling in love.
"I chose to become a Mississippian because of the people here; I wanted to stay," he says. "It is a wonderful place to call home."
Stay he did, first as a priest for four years at St. Peter's Cathedral, St. Alphonsus in Ocean Springs and Christ the King in Jackson. In 1971, he met his wife, Linda, and resigned from the priesthood to begin a new life with her. Now, 34 years later, Linda, the executive director of Catholic Charities, and Michael have two grown children, Lauren, 31, and Matthew, 28.
Raff founded the Mississippi Legal Services Coalition. Though not a lawyer, he gathered lawyers to represent lower-income Mississippians before the Legislature and state administrative agencies.
"In order to make Mississippi better, we need to recognize the value of its people and how much they have to give to the state," Raff says. "We need to learn to utilize that."
In 1983, he ran for public services commissioner against Nielsen Cochran, who still holds the office, losing by only 200 votes. He also ran for state auditor in 1987.
"My life wouldn't have been so interesting had I won," he says, thinking back.
He is well known for what he did next—converting a closed and rundown gas station on the corner of High and Jefferson into the popular My Favorite Spaghetti restaurant. The take-out pasta became a Jackson favorite for the 10 years it was open.
Raff is now the acting director of Jackson's Department of Human and Cultural Services. His department directs many initiatives such as Early Childhood Development, a program that provides school preparation to 300 children aged 6 weeks to 5-years-old. The Senior Services Division serves more than 1,000 seniors a day through home-delivery meals, congregate meals and senior centers. Raff's department also supports the Mississippi Museum of Art and Thalia Mara Hall.
On Aug. 15, the City Council unanimously approved a 10-year strategic plan to end homelessness in Jackson presented by Raff.
"I think it is very important that everyone commits themselves to the city," Raff says.
Anyone interested in helping can call the Department of Human and Cultural Services at 601-960-0335.
I had no clue of Mr. Raff's history. This is the type of person the City needs as Department Directors. Unfortunately, Mayor is reverting back to the "spoil system" by arbitrarily putting "consultants" over people like Mr. Raff. No doubt two of the consultants hired, Jimmy Heidel and Dr. Sargeant are highly qualified, but if they should not be "running" departments which essentially removes the authority of people like Mr. Raff.