In 1937, Babe Ruth was getting paid $25,000 in ads from Quaker Oats, Amelia Earhart disappeared over the Pacific Ocean, Hitler was plotting war, and Henry Paul Beaugez Jr. was born in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. His father, Henry Paul Sr., was an oysterman married to Sible Mae, a most Southern name if I’ve ever heard one.
During his childhood, the two Henry’s would venture out early in the morning to fish the Mississippi Sound. Watching his father harvest oysters, Henry Jr. learned quickly to appreciate hard-work and came to admire the men who made their living from the seafood hunted in surrounding areas, such as Davis Bayou, Fort Bayou, Graveline Bayou, and the Barrier Islands. And so Henry Jr. found contentment in fishing the coastal waters his father taught him how to love.
When he wasn’t learning the ropes of harbor life from his dad, Henry Jr. was swimming with his buddies and perfecting his dive, which was quite spectacular. Strong and lean, he entered Ocean Springs High School and joined the football team under the coaching of local legend Coach Clay Boyd. He learned what Coach called ‘basic fundamentals,’ which Henry Jr. found applied as much to football as they did to living a humble, balanced life. Henry Jr., so inspired by the lessons he learned on the field, took time later to teach these tools to peewee football players, gaining him the nickname “Peewee.”
At the age of 17, he begged his mom to sign the permission form for him to enter the Army National Guard. Sible Mae obliged, and Henry Jr. served for nine years. At the time of his honorable discharge, he was a Staff Sergeant.
Henry Jr. never went to college and never left the United States, but he was an avid reader who particularly loved history and geography. He kept up with political issues locally, nationally, and around the world, and always kept an atlas nearby when reading about happenings in other hemispheres. He enjoyed good music and even dabbled in writing poetry.
His favorite book, he’d say, was the Bible. A true Southern man, he had an unashamed faith in Jesus and went to church without blinking an eye. He attended First Baptist in Ocean Springs, where, as an adult, he taught Sunday School and was elected twice to be a deacon.
When he wasn’t serving church or country, he worked in Quality Assurance at Ingall’s Shipyard, Pascagoula, a naval ship building company founded in 1938 (currently, the largest private employer in Mississippi). After a 20-year career as an Instructor and Auditor, he was forced into medical retirement but remained good friends with his coworkers, who called him “Beau.”
When he was 22, his piercing blue-eyes fell on Coach’s pretty daughter, Jane. The two married and had three kids, Sarah, Leigh, and Jason. And way later came five grandchildren, and eventually, three great-grandchildren.
I’m one of those grandchildren. The aforementioned facts of this unsung hero’s life is information I pulled from the obituary my grandmother, MeMe, wrote for Henry Jr.’s passing, which was Thursday, just five days shy of his 76th birthday. She highlighted the quiet life he led and the profoundly sharp sense of humor he held onto despite health limitations. Meme said, “He gave more than he took and lived well the life God gave him.”
He was PawPaw to his grandkids, and, besides passing on his blue eyes to all of us, he also leaves the following memories:
- He was a super handsome gentleman and looked like Ed Harris.
- He liked white bread for his toast. I never thought that strange until I moved out west and realized how Southern white toast is.
- He frequented the Coastal Rifle and Pistol Range, where he honed skills as a marksman in target-shooting. He took me once. I didn’t like the noise but enjoyed seeing him so happy to hit the bulls-eye.
- He loved his Lazy-Boy chair.
- He had cold feet, a trait I unfortunately inherited… only he used a blow-dryer to keep them warm. I haven’t had to do that yet.
- He was always threatening to chop my legs off so I wouldn’t keep growing.
- Strawberries were aplenty when I visited. He know they were my favorite.
- Early on Saturdays, he’d drive his old Toyota pickup to Tatonut Donuts and bring back a dozen to the house for us, a treat I still drool over at the thought.
I heard a quote by Rumi recently that I’m sure my Southern Baptist grandmother would not appreciate as much as the Abraham Lincoln quote she put in her tribute to PawPaw, but I can’t help but think how applicable it is to who Henry Paul Beauguez Jr. was to those who knew him in Ocean Springs, Mississippi: “Wherever you stand, be the soul of that place.”
So the least likely man to ever intentionally practice Eastern traditions ended up embodying a truth that he lived out daily so well. Henry “PawPaw” “PeeWee” “Beau” Beaugez was the soul of the Gulf Coast, resilient to life’s hurricanes and happy as a clam to drive along the coast and watch the sunset.