You can’t blame Deborah Shaw Laman for saying that she has “the best job in the world.” The 1979 UT Martin communications graduate is vice president and marketing director for Casey Jones Village in Jackson. What makes her career even more special is working with her brother, Clark Shaw, and her 88-year-old mother, Miss Anne, to continue the legacy of Brooks Shaw, the late father and husband whose vision created this successful family business.
Located just off Interstate 40 at exit 80A, the village is named for legendary railroad engineer Casey Jones who died in a famous train wreck April 30, 1900, in Vaughan, Miss. The Jackson home in which he lived is located on the site and open for tours. The remainder of the complex includes Brooks Shaw & Son’s Old Country Store, the Casey Jones Home & Railroad Museum, the Judge Milton Brown Railcar (part of the museum tour), a series of shops that comprise the actual “village,” an amphitheatre, a church and Casey Jones Mini Golf. The Neil House, an antebellum home that was moved to the village from Trenton in summer 2010, will open later this year to welcome weddings and special events.
Deborah graduated from North Side High School in Jackson, attended Jackson State Community College and enrolled her sophomore year at UT Martin. “I just kind of fell in love with the school, and I liked the small-town atmosphere,” she said. Only three weeks after arriving on campus, she met her future husband, Jon, who earned a double major in math and computer science. Both were active in campus life as she was a member of AOPi Sorority, and Jon played basketball for the Pacers. Jon holds an information technology management position with Memphis, Light Gas & Water where he was a consultant and then employed for 28 years. They’ve now been married 31 years and have two grown children, Jonathan and Jennifer.
Today, Deborah and Clark, company CEO, lead a business that serves customers young and old. “Of course, first and foremost, we are a Christian-owned company, so we try to be family oriented. We don’t serve alcohol, and it’s very important to us to create a good, clean family atmosphere for our guests,” Deborah said. The village welcomes some 700,000 visitors annually, placing the Casey Jones Village consistently among the top-10 attractions in the state by the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development. Among the more notable visitors to the Village are President George H. Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush; Led Zeppelin lead singer Robert Plant; and former Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
Even after decades in business, communicating with old and new customers is more important than ever. Traditional advertising, public relations and now social media are connecting people with the village, so Deborah’s multiple communications skills come into play daily. “You have to have a voice in the social media if you’re in the restaurant business, or any business for that matter,” she said. As the administrator for their Twitter account and two Facebook pages, Deborah monitors the chatter and tries “to keep the conversation going.” The two Facebook pages have a combined 2,800 friends, and the number is growing.
The village is well positioned to make a whole new generation of friends as visitors continue to enjoy great food, see history preserved and experience the best in family entertainment. It’s for these reasons that Deborah, Clark and Miss Anne proudly proclaim Casey Jones Village “the best whistle stop between Memphis and Nashville.”