Pivoting, Persevering…Producing: One man’s quest for bettering self, community
By Jack Criss • Photography by Timothy Ivy
Arestless energy drives Quentin Whitwell; but that energy is not chaotic—it is laser focused. It’s a dedicated, purposeful vision that is fueled by his desire to be a better person, a better businessman and a better citizen.
Whitwell’s energy has led him to the political world, the practice of law, the writing of a book, health care ownership and other ventures which he is just now embarking on. Not one to sit still or be content, Whitwell is always looking for something new and productive just around life’s corner—and his life bears that fact out. Turning fifty this year, he is poised to be pushed forward by a second wind in his life and entrepreneurial ventures.
Born in Memphis, Tennessee, his family lived in Southaven at the time before moving to Oxford five days before he turned thirteen. That is when Quentin’s father, Robert (or “Bob”), became the United States Attorney for the North District of Mississippi. His mother, Martha, was a longtime high school physics and chemistry teacher before ending her career at Ole Miss teaching students who in like-kind wished to be science instructors.
“Mom and Dad have been in Oxford since 1985,” says Whitwell. “And, currently we live close to each other in Oxford on opposite ends of the Square.”
The elder Whitwell at seventy-six years old is still active in his career currently serving his third term as a Chancery Judge for several North Mississippi counties. Whitwell also has a younger brother, Fletcher.
Whitwell was student Body President at Oxford High School and played quarterback for the football team, already demonstrating his leadership abilities at an early age.
“I went on to Ole Miss in 1991 where I was also Student Body President,” says Whitwell. “And before graduating with a B.A. in History I served as then-Representative Roger Wicker’s first intern. I also went to Iowa driving the press van and providing advance team support for former Republican Tennessee governor (and later Senator), Lamar Alexander, when he had thrown his hat in the presidential primary.”
After graduating law school from Ole Miss, Whitwell married his wife, the former Ginger Gordon of Forest, “my first date at Ole Miss—and also my last!” he laughs. “I think of those days at Ole Miss and Oxford in the mid-90s as a type of golden era. It has a funky, literary vibe with a little grunge thrown in along with all of the University’s traditions—it was a wonderful time to be in Oxford then and I treasure all of my memories there.”
Quentin and Ginger decided to stay in Oxford after marrying. They almost didn’t have a choice, he recalls.
“My mother called us while we were on our honeymoon in Mexico and said she had already found us a house!” laughs Whitwell. “It was right off the Square, had been built in 1923, and we actually bought it sight unseen on our honeymoon. When we got home, we redid the whole structure and now, looking back, we seem like trendsetters because South 11th—where the house was located—is now one of Oxford’s trendiest streets.”
The house is still there and was actually rented at one time by the daughter of country music star, Kix Brooks of Brooks and Dunn, when she was at Ole Miss.
Whitwell was working at the Farese Law Firm in Oxford, where his father was at the time, and decided to run for State Senate as a Republican in 1999.
“Looking back, it was a little premature on my part,” he says. “I didn’t win, of course, and so Ginger and I decided to move to Gulfport where I went to work at another law firm. We stayed on the Coast for a year before making the decision to come to Jackson.”
Upon his arrival in Jackson, Whitwell went to work at the Page, Kruger and Holland firm before he became aware of a job opening at the Mississippi Association of Realtors in 2002.
“I had been doing all the grind work of a lawyer for a number of years by that point,” recalls Whitwell. “But, this position—as the Association’s first lobbyist—appealed to me. I was also to act as in-house counsel and handle government affairs. I got the job and it was really a fun job. I loved the job and saw I could do other things besides bill hours as a practicing attorney.”
Toward the end of 2004, Whitwell got to know Chip Reno while he was doing volunteer work for Haley Barbour’s campaign and Whitwell was doing the same for Amy Tuck for Lt. Governor through their respective trade associations.
“One day, I casually mentioned to him that we should start a lobbying firm,” says Whitwell. “Well, Chip went on vacation and by the time he got back, I had a business plan written up, an operating agreement—the whole mapping out of a new firm,” he laughs. “That’s how The Talon Group got started, which was very successful for us, conducting lobbying and public affairs work. I had always kept my law license, though.”
The Talon Group got bought out by the Brunini, Grantham law firm in Jackson, which led to another fateful meeting for Whitwell.
“Robert Gibbs, who had been at Brunini, as well as President of the Bar and a former Circuit Judge, decided to start the Gibbs Whitwell law firm together with The Talon Group, which we had reacquired,” says Whitwell. “That was 2011, the same year I ran successfully for the Jackson City Council—it was a whirlwind year. And, looking back, I think Robert and I had started one of the first law firms that equally partnered a prominent Black and White lawyer together, which I think was very important at the time. Improving race relations in Mississippi was a priority for both of us and we led by example.”
Asked why he ran for a seat on the Jackson City Council, Whitwell says it was to fulfill a desire of his to always be in public service on a political level, “which is also why I ran for Senate in 1999,” he adds. “It was the right time to run and I had been involved with Jackson’s business and political leaders who were working hard to make things better for the City. I, too, thought I could make a difference. I took up Ben Allen’s old seat for Ward One on the Council and had a decisive win. I still remember being shocked and laughing when (then Jackson) Mayor Harvey Johnson called me one day and referred to me as Councilman!”
In the middle of Whitwell’s second term on the City Council, he and Ginger felt the calling again to where it all began: Oxford.
“It was 2014,” he says. “And, while I was on the Council, the City of Jackson went through four mayors. I made the decision that I had done all I could do in that role and things had changed in city government, really. It was time for my family and me to move on and expand our horizons.”
The influence came from an unsuspecting and unknown person at the time. Whitwell was introduced to a gentleman named Tommy Moore, a life coach/planner from Greenville, South Carolina, who subscribed to the principals of the well-known and influential author and business coach, Ken Blanchard, known for his best selling book “Lead Like Jesus.”
“Tommy came to my house in Jackson to spend a weekend at my invitation,” says Whitwell. “And, admittedly, I did my best to impress him with my accomplishments and put on a real dog-and-pony show. Before he left, he asked to speak to my wife and me together, candidly, in a way he said he’d never done with anyone before. He did so—the crux of the conversation being we had not reached our full potential and true selves—and even left us a post-it note on my office wall that simply read ‘Stay or go.’ I took him and his advice very seriously. We took a family vacation shortly thereafter and had many serious discussions about our plans as a family and in business.”
Whitwell says he stays in touch with Moore and even had him to his Oxford house last winter where the two re-established Whitwell’s life plan.
“He had gone through his own challenges in the interim years,” says Whitwell, “but had bounced back and we had a great reunion together. He told me that he had first seen me as a leader but not in that role in Jackson that I had established. The plans were deeper and wider. He added that he thought I had become a leader now sourcing the power from a true vision—one for my family, for my community and for myself.”
The decision to go back to Oxford was unanimous in the Whitwell family.
“It wasn’t going to be a complete restart,” says Whitwell. “We packed up and Ginger, our son, Gordon, and daughter, Davis, moved in a condo we had there in town. Not long after, I met with Dr. Kenneth Williams, who owns the hospital in Holly Springs and had been a client of my father, and was offered a job as Chief Operating Officer/General Counsel of his hospital. I rolled up my sleeves with him and starting embarking on a new venture and trying to find ways to make rural health care and its delivery better.”
In 2018, Whitwell approached Dr. Williams with the idea of looking at the hospital in Batesville, MS (the former Tri-Lakes/Panola facility built in 2001) that had gone bankrupt.
“I worked up and actually prepared a bid, made a leap of faith, and was awarded the bid in bankruptcy court in Nashville,” says Whitwell. “While there doing so, I met a gentleman who himself was buying a hospital in Alabama—a Mr. Bappa Mukherji—and we started talking. To make a long story short, he came down to Holly Springs to visit with Dr. Williams and me and we’re currently working together on several hospital and healthcare ventures. He has owned twenty-eight hospitals over the years, is brilliant, had a great track record—and now is our partner and dear friend.”
Whitwell is currently the CEO of the partners’ new system, Progressive Health Systems, Inc. with some 800 employees in the hospitals/facilities they own, including Quitman Community Hospital in Marks, MS—a Critical Access Hospital—a surgery center in Tupelo, and managing The Tunica County clinics. He still serves as the COO and Legal Counsel for Alliance Healthcare System, Inc., in Holly Springs, the original hospital that Dr. Williams owned.
On March 1, 2019, the three business partners acquired the Panola Medical Center—and on that very same day, Ginger Whitwell bought the store Frock on the Square in Oxford.
“We put all of our eggs in one basket on the same day!” laughs Whitwell. “And we turned the Panola hospital around from a deficit of $8 million in 2019 to a positive of $5 million in 2021—progress was being made on all fronts.”
A strong man of faith and student of Emotional Intelligence, Whitwell’s current vision is a wide and ambitious one, and it is: “I am an entrepreneur with a vision of better health for all the world. I buy hospitals in order to make people healthier in every aspect and every way—physically, mentally and spiritually,” he says. “This is the reason why I recently connected with former Mississippi Governor, Ronnie Musgrove—whom I’ve known for years—to start a business that would test cannabis to ensure its safety as the State rolls out its Medical Marijuana initiative.
Musgrove had become interested in therapeutic treatments because of his late wife’s illness and both he and Whitwell found commonality as advocates for patient safety and laboratory testing.
“We created Magnolia Tech Labs to fill that space and provide that need,” says Whitwell. “We’ll be opening the very first cannabis testing lab in North Mississippi and plan to open similar labs throughout Mississippi, as well. Ronnie and I have been joined in this venture by both of our partners.”
(Visit magnoliatechlabs.com for more information; the application is expected to be submitted to the State Department of Health very soon).
Also an author (his novel If By Whiskey was published in 2009), Whitwell says another book might be forthcoming, but that he is a man of few hobbies.
“Trying to run the hospitals we’ve acquired during Covid was challenging, to say the least,” he says. “And, that’s where most of my energy went. I’m a workaholic. I’m also reading medical regulations, the federal register—you name it—if it has to do with patient and hospital services, I devour it on a regular basis. That said, Ginger and I do a little travel now and then. Our son, Gordon, is on the Ole Miss men’s tennis team as a Freshman and daughter Davis is moving to London, England to receive her Master’s Degree in Graphic Design. We’re very proud of them both.”
Whitwell was the 2005 recipient of the MS Business Journal’s “Top 40 under 40” award and he is on the Board of the William Magee Institute, a foundation dedicated to turning the lives of college students away from addiction. In addition to this, Whitwell is a member of the Ole Miss Hall of Fame, serves on the Board of Trustee’s for Oxford University United Methodist Church, and as founder of Quentin Whitwell Enterprises (his motivational videos can be seen at quentinwhitwell.one)—yet another ven-ture—this tremendous Mississippian says he believes in forward thinking and that things can always be improved upon and made better.
“That is my modus operandi,” he says, “and always will be—in all of my endeavors to leave things better than I found them.”
In the near future, Whitwell intends to acquire some more Mississippi hospitals in the North Delta footprint, establish a Rural Hospital Association, and re-engage in his law practice with Governor Musgrove. Progressive has committed to opening twenty more clinics in North Mississippi in the next eighteen months. No wonder he always gets asked “When do you find time to sleep?” He laughs at the question.”I am blessed to be where I am today.”