Early years of travel profoundly influenced MU rural sociologist Mary Grigsby

“I am lucky to have a job that I love and is fun to do,” Mary Grigsby said.

A professor of rural sociology at MU, Grigsby spent years traveling and working around the world but has made her home in Columbia.  Her life experiences have shaped her into the rural sociologist she is today. Grigsby was born in Atlanta, Ga, but by the time she was 4 years old, her family had moved to Kerman in Iran.  Her father was a diplomat and worked in community development. His field was closely linked to agriculture, and most of the countries he worked in had an agricultural based economy.  This was Grigsby’s introduction to the rural way of life.

What Grigsby didn’t know at the time was that her upbringing would have an impact on her work in the future as a rural sociologist.  She learned how to speak Persian at a young age by playing with Iranian children. During the six years she lived in Iran, she was also in Mashhad, which is a less developed town near the border with Russia.  Grigsby also moved to Tehran and attended an international school with other American kids.

“Family life in Iran was very much the center of the culture,” Grigsby said. “They spent a lot of time together and were more open then than they are today.”

Shortly thereafter, her family moved to Bolivia and she learned Spanish.

“There was a lot of freedom there,” Grigsby said. “More than what you would have thought, coming from America.”

Eventually, Grigsby came back to the U.S., and  her dad got a job teaching at MU.  She lived on a farm between New Franklin and Fayette, Mo.  On the farm, they raised Black Angus cattle and chickens and grew corn, soybeans and wheat.  This was Grigsby’s first experience in a rural town in the U.S.  She called New Franklin home, and also went to high school there.  Growing up Grigsby had dreams of being a ballet dancer and then a teacher.  Grigsby would go on to graduate from MU.

Prior to becoming a faculty member in rural sociology, Grigsby had a first career as an academic librarian and library director.  In that career, Grigsby served as journalism librarian at MU, director of the library at the University of South Florida at St. Petersburg, Fl., and two stints at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale in Niigata, Japan.  Grigsby really enjoyed her time in Japan.  She uses the culture she experienced there to teach in her classes.

After completing a Ph.D. in sociology at MU, Grigsby was hired as a rural sociologist at MU.  It was supposed to be a one-year commitment, but after 12 years, she still proudly works as a rural sociology professor. Grigsby really enjoys every day of her job.

Gary Glass, a master’s student at MU is a teaching assistant for Grigsby. She was the first person he talked to when he came to MU.

“She was super helpful,” Glass said, “and she wasn’t even my adviser.”

For Mandy Sims, Grigsby was the main reason she came to MU.

Sims is also a master’s student and a teaching assistant for Grigsby. She believes Grigsby cares about the success of her students and works very hard to help them achieve it.  To her, Grigsby is not the kind of teacher who just throws information at students to remember.  She is more of a process-learning teacher.  This way it could help you in other classes as well.

“She doesn’t think of herself as just a teacher,” Glass said, “She treats everybody with respect.”

Grigsby knows what students are going through.  She went through all the same things at MU.  She is also a very organized person.  All over her desk she has notecards on which she puts tasks to do.  When she completes a task, she crosses it out and adds another task.

She enjoys the graduate and international students, with whom she works.  She is very aware of their research and life experiences and learns through her students.  Grigsby’s focus for now is on rural Missouri.

She enjoys the balance she has now of teaching and research. What makes her research successful is her ability to work with and get along with people.  Through her research she has produced the books; Buying Time and Getting By:  The Voluntary Simplicity Movement, College Life through the Eyes of Students, and Noodlers in Missouri:  Fishing for Identity in a Rural Subculture.  She is currently working on another called Buying In and Buying Out: Consumption and Community in a Small Midwestern Town.

The respect she receives from students and others is obvious.  Both Glass and Simms have already made sure they are teaching assistants for Grigsby in the future.  “I wouldn’t want to spend my fall with anyone else,” Glass said.  Grigsby continues to serve MU with great pride and character and it shows in her work and students.

By Josh Booth
Corner Post Staff Writer