By Alexe van Beuren
When I call William “Bill” Trusty to set up our interview, he is not wearing his hearing aid. And so when I go to his house, he thinks I’m searching for a lost relative or friend like the many other people who contact him– after all, he is ninety-seven years old, and he has lived in Water Valley for every one of those years: he knows just about everybody.
After I explain that I am here to profile him for the paper, Trusty turns the police scanner off, settles in his favorite chair, and answers my questions with perfect composure.
William T. Trusty is the last of six children. His father, a prominent landowner, sheriff, and bank president, owned over two thousand acres out in Pine Valley, and that’s where Trusty grew up (though without his mother, who died when he was just three weeks old).
After attending Water Valley High School and Ole Miss, Trusty emerged with a bachelor of science degree in commerce smack dab in the middle of the Great Depression.
“The International Harvester dealer in Water Valley gave it up,” Trusty tells me. “Daddy took it over and gave it to me. I didn’t know a thing about it.”
Five years later, Trusty’s father (the President of the Bank of Water Valley) decided that his son’s experience at the dealership could be of use to the bank – and so Trusty joined the loan committee. “He thought I knew who would pay their loans,” Trusty says, “because of my experience with the farmers.”
Trusty began working at the bank on top of his responsibilities at the dealership. Every morning, he and two other loan officers would review loan applications and decide whether to approve them or not. The loans were mostly for farm machinery, houses, and land; when property was involved, Trusty and his fellows would travel to the piece of property and appraise it.
“Maybe we didn’t know much about it,” Trusty says, smiling, “but we made out like we did.”
As well as his work at the dealership and the bank, Trusty helped run the Hotel Trusty, a thirty-six-room establishment that occupied the building where Steve Thompson’s apartments are now. After fifty years, the hotel closed in the mid-seventies. Trusty points out the metal fan in the corner of his living room– each hotel room had contained one. Purchased in 1924, “it still works,” he says.
His fourth and final responsibility, a bus station, ran out of the hotel lobby. Trusty tells me that you could leave Water Valley on the seven a.m. bus, spend the day in Memphis, and be home by six o’clock in the evening.
And so, between his four businesses, active civic involvement, and a home life that included his wife Rachel and daughter Sarah Nell, the years flew by, uninterrupted by war time, as Trusty was deemed 4-F by the army in both Memphis and Grenada.
When his father retired from the Bank of Water Valley, the board approached Trusty about the president’s position. “I said, ‘no, sir, I’m not interested,’” Trusty recalls. “I had more jobs than I needed.” Instead, Trusty became the new Vice President. “What does a vice president do?” I ask, and Trusty smiles. “It’s sort of like the third verse of a song that’s never sung,” he tells me, eyes twinkling.
In his forty years at the bank, Trusty tells me he can only recall one foreclosure. I ask him about the current mortgage-lending industry, and Trusty shakes his head.
“I am so glad I’m not in the business now. People make these deals they don’t think through.”
More than foreclosure rates have changed since Trusty’s time; for one, the Bank of Water Valley no longer exists. Though the bank re-built after the tornado of 1984 that demolished the old building (which stood on the corner of Main Street and Wood Street), it was bought out in the 1990s by the Bank of Tupelo.
As for the International Harvester dealership, Trusty signed the sale papers forty-five years and six months to the day after he took it over. “When I was about seventy-four years old, it dawned on me that I was going to need to know about computers to stay in this business, and I was too old to learn,” he tells me. “So I found three nice young men to buy the dealership from me. Besides, tractors had gotten to be one hundred thousand dollars,” and he shakes his head in disbelief.
The price tag of the tractor is the only subject that seems to surprise Trusty during our interview. When I ask about his marriages (the first ended in divorce, and after fifty years of marriage, his second wife, Rachel, died) Trusty tells me that his two wives actually ended up in neighboring rooms at the hospital. He’s smiling, and not at all astonished by the coincidence.
“My first wife was telling Rachel about what a good fellow I was,” he says, chuckling. It’s a sentiment that Water Valley seems to share; during his life here, Trusty has been the president of “just about every organization there is.” When I ask if he ever wished he’d lived somewhere else, Trusty shakes his head. “Oh no,” he says. “I’m dead set on Water Valley.”