February 23, 2018  

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Children’s Center Director Buttross-Brinegar Says Time is Right to Retire

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Children's Center Director Margaret Buttross-Brinegar, right, and speech-language pathologist Lori Burgess work with 3-year-old Mackenzie Samples. Buttross-Brinegar is retiring this month after more than 30 years at the university. (Office of University Communications photo by Steve Rouse)

Margaret Buttross-Brinegar gave The University of Southern Mississippi more than 30 years of unfailing service. Along the way, she gave thousands of developmentally challenged children unwavering support and direction. And now she’s ready to give retirement a try.

Buttross-Brinegar, longtime director of The Children’s Center for Communication and Development at Southern Miss, is retiring at the end of this month noting that “the center and I am ready for a new chapter. This change just feels right.”

One way to measure an employee’s legacy is by examining the footprints he or she leaves behind. Colleagues who have worked alongside Buttross-Brinegar marvel at her boundless energy and sincere commitment to needy children.

Speech pathologist Lori Burgess came to The Children’s Center as a graduate student. After eight years as a staff member she has witnessed first-hand the unselfish efforts made by Buttross-Brinegar to trumpet the center’s mission.

“During my time here I’ve seen Margaret spend countless hours growing public awareness of the Children’s Center, facilitating relationships between employees, students and parents’ heading fundraisers to help expand services; foster relationships between the center and school districts and assure staff development for the best possible services available,” said Burgess.

In summation Burgess declares, “Margaret has given nothing less than her all to the Children’s Center.”

A Natchez, Miss., native and Southern Miss alum (1974), Buttross-Brinegar joined the Southern Miss Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences as a Clinical Supervisor and Speech-Language Clinician in 1979. Promoted to assistant director of The Children’s Center in 1981, she took over as director in 1997.

The Children’s Center, a United Way agency, provides a trans-disciplinary team approach to the assessment and treatment of children with communication and developmental disabilities. Infants, toddlers and preschoolers receive services in their home or at the center, depending upon their needs.

In the past 20 years the center’s client numbers have grown from 25 children/students to a capacity of 90 today. Over that time the staff has multiplied from four speech-language pathologists to a 14-person professional team that includes a special educator, physical and occupational therapist, behavior therapist, resource development coordinator and office manager.

The center has also evolved into a highly respected clinical training site, not only for speech-language pathologists but other related disciplines. William Carey University, University Medical Center, University of South Alabama and Pearl River Community College have all sent students to the Children’s Center for training.

Buttross-Brinegar derives her greatest satisfaction from the smiles on the faces of children who overcome great adversity and from the smiles of proud and appreciative parents.

“Being a part of changing lives, developing a path for families and providing hope for families has been truly rewarding,” she said. “This is a life-changing place and it is a genuine privilege to share the challenges and joys with our families. They and their children inspire me every single day to get the job done for them.”

Dr. Steven Cloud, chair of the Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences at Southern Miss, calls Buttross-Brinegar “irreplaceable” noting that when she joined the staff only a handful of children attended what was then known as the Preschool Language Program. To make matters worse, the program was “$10,000 in the hole.”

Cloud credits Buttross-Brinegar for bringing national recognition to the Children’s Center which now features a 5,000-square-foot facility including a state-of-the-art adaptive playground/outdoor classroom. Families travel as far as 90 miles one way to take advantage of the center’s unique services.

“The children served by this multi-disciplinary team of experts, their parents and the community at large have Margaret to thank for the exemplary services that have helped thousands of children, who otherwise might not have received appropriate services, to improve their communication skills and lead productive and fulfilling lives,” said Cloud.

“She’ll be missed terribly, but I know that she’ll be extremely successful in whatever she decides to do in the future. And we want to say thanks for all you’ve done for us at Southern Miss.”

Buttross-Brinegar has no qualms about leaving the center at this point in its proud history. Special educator Cindy Bivins has agreed to serve as interim director while a new future for the center is strategized.

“The Children’s Center and Southern Miss have been recognized by experts and leaders from all over the country,” she said. “Our greatest honor, though, comes from serving the community, the families who know that Southern Miss is where their children are getting their best start in dealing with a lifetime of special challenges. And for our university students, there is no better experience than that.”

As for retirement, Buttross-Brinegar subscribes to a simple philosophy.

“After surveying many, many retired individuals, I have learned there are two ways to go with such a plan – to have it mapped out. Know exactly what’s next and get on with it,” she said. “The other plan is to ‘wing it.’ I’m going with that one.”