William E. “Billy” ByrdThe Yazoo Herald
Lifelong Yazoo County resident, William Earl “Billy” Byrd died Dec. 28, 2012 at his home on Grand Avenue.
Byrd was born in his parents’ house at the corner of Webster and Canal streets in Yazoo City on Aug. 12, 1928. As a youth he attended Yazoo City and County Schools. In 1938 Byrd designed and built an entry in the local Soap Box Derby race conducted on Broadway Street. Billy won his division and advanced to the Mid-South Championship. He took the blue ribbon in Memphis, Tenn. and was awarded a wrist watch and a bicycle, which he claimed to wash after every ride.
During WWII, Byrd’s father bought a farm on the banks of the Walashabouge Creek off Myrleville Road. The family house was on a private dirt road, so the county school bus would not pick up the children. Byrd’s father negotiated a contract so that Billy’s older sister, Katherine could drive the bus route and park the bus at their house. However, Katherine was apprehensive about driving that size automobile and unofficially deferred to Billy. He drove the route (with his father’s blessing) beginning at age 14 until he graduated from Benton High School in 1945.
Later that summer Billy met and fell in love with Martha Jean Lee of Indianola. She had accepted a summer job working in the Yazoo City Office of the State Highway Department for Mr. Lacey Hodges. Billy and Herman Asher arranged a double date with Martha Jean and one of her girlfriends. The two men flipped a coin to see who would be paired with which girl. Martha Jean often joked that Billy “lost” the coin toss.
Byrd enrolled at Mississippi State College the following fall. He was active in the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity and was named Chapter President his senior year. While at college, Byrd played flugelhorn in the Maroon Band, worked part time in the Extension Office Mail Room and was inducted into Kappa Mu Epsilon, The American Society of Agricultural Engineers, Alpha Zeta, Blue Key and Omicron Delta Kappa. He completed the two mandatory years of military science, and then signed a contract with ROTC. He held the school record for disassembling and reassembling an M-1 rifle blindfolded. Byrd graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Agricultural Engineering and a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserve.
After college he returned home and partnered with his father to open Farmer’s Equipment Co., Inc. on Mound Street. He also transferred to the Mississippi Army National Guard and was assigned as Mortar Platoon Leader, Co. D, 155th Inf. Regt., 31st Inf. Div.
In 1951 Byrd’s unit was ordered to active duty as part of the Army’s mobilization for the Korean Conflict. He was promoted to First Lieutenant and assigned as Company Commander. During the summer of 1952, he requested leave to marry Martha Jean in Indianola (Asher served as a groomsman). Byrd completed his tour that same year and returned to Yazoo City.
In 1961 Billy closed Farmer’s Equipment and began second career. He was hired as a night warehouse supervisor for Mississippi Chemical Corporation (MCC). His first duty was to prepare and build portable latrines for the company’s ten-year anniversary celebration. He was promoted that same year to Sales Trainee and began a thirty-year career in the Sales Department. He retired from MCC as Director of Sales and Marketing in 1991.
During his tenure at MCC Byrd was an active member of the Fertilizer Industry Roundtable, Mississippi Council of Farmer Cooperatives and the Mississippi Agricultural Chemical Council (President 1977). He was also a member of The Association of Mississippi Agricultural Organizations and the Central Mississippi Agri-Business Council.
Byrd participated in several community and civic organizations including the Lion’s Club (Past President), Keep Mississippi Beautiful Committee, and the Yazoo County Chamber of Commerce (Board of Directors).
Byrd was enrolled at birth as a Sunday School member at First Baptist Church, Yazoo City. He publicly acknowledged Jesus as his Savior as a child and was baptized in the same congregation in 1938. He was a continuous member until his death and served in many capacities including deacon (past Chairman), SS Director, Personnel Committee, Choir and Orchestra (trumpet). Martha Jean served many years as the church organist, and Billy became a self-taught organ repair and maintenance man.
Billy and Martha Jean reared a daughter, Beth and two sons, David and Neil. The loving parents were staunch supporters of all of their children’s endeavors even into their adult lives.
During his retirement, Byrd remained active in professional organizations and filled much of his time manicuring his lawn. His chief aggravation was a prolific stand of sweet-gum trees in his back yard. Byrd often quipped that, “the road to hell is lined with sweet-gum balls”.
Billy and Martha Jean enjoyed visiting their children and grandchildren and made several interstate and international tours with their friends. When her health began to fail, Billy affectionately attended to Martha Jean until her death in 2007.
In recent years Byrd was a mainstay at all weekly worship services of FBC and Thursday Lion’s Club meetings at Stub’s Restaurant. As recently as the fall of 2011, even though he battled a bothersome limp, Byrd aggressively peddled Lion’s Club pecans in support of the organization’s sight saving efforts. He had every intention of setting new sales records each year.
Because of the gift of his Savior, Byrd was assured of an eternal life with his Heavenly Father. Now he no longer limps for any reason, but especially not because of sweet-gum balls.
He was preceded in death by his wife Martha Jean Byrd of Indianola; parents Eugene Leonard Byrd, Sr. and Glennie Sigrest Byrd of Yazoo City; brother Eugene Leonard Jr. of Santa Barbara, CA; sisters Dorothy Byrd Hutchison (Clyde) and Frances Byrd Crocker (Clayton) of Yazoo City and Kathryn Byrd Hanks (Ward) of Smithville, MO.
He is survived by his daughter Beth Byrd Stansberry (Jerry) of Hixson, TN; sons David Alan Byrd (Carol) of Stuart VA; Edward Neil Byrd (Freda) of Hoover, AL; grandchildren Bren Stansberry (Sharon) of Knoxville, TN; Gina Stansberry George (Eric) of Franklin, TN; Katherine Dale Byrd of Pensacola, FL; Benjamin Lee Byrd of Stuart, VA; Landon Neil Byrd and Edward Earl Byrd of Hoover, AL; great-grandchildren Gentry George and Kristin Lyle George of Franklin, TN, sister-in-law Barbara Byrd of San Diego, CA; brother-in-law Clyde Edward Lee (Mary) of Austin, TX; and numerous cousins, nieces and nephews.
Jamie Patterson Managing EditorThis Christmas was a difficult one for me this year with the passing of my Aunt Sonya.
She died early Thursday morning, only a few days before Christmas Day.
The festivities carried on but with an empty seat and an empty feeling inside as my family struggled to pick up the pieces.
There were a few moments when I had to take a minute to myself, but I guess all you can do is move forward.
The past week has been filled with “she’s in a better place” or “at least she is no longer suffering.” I agree with all these statements, but I would be lying if I didn’t say I was being selfish by wanting her here instead.
My Aunt Sonya was a spitfire, there is no doubt about that. She had a quick wit and an even sharper tongue. It was her spunk that got her in trouble a lot of times. But no one can say that they didn’t know where she stood on things.
She appeared rough to many, and I can honestly say that she was a tough cookie. But she was my aunt, and I loved her dearly.
She was my aunt who would take my afternoon nap with me. She would tell me ghost stories with creepy sound effects.
She would let me dive into the kid swimming pool before supper even though my grandmother told me not to do it. In the end, we would both get in trouble.
She would let me stay up late and watch television with her when I was supposed to be in bed.
She would sing Elvis songs with me in the car on our way to the supermarket.
She would braid my hair or fix it up in some 1960s hairstyle. She would put green eye shadow on me and touch me up with pink lipstick.
She tossed me the keys to my uncle’s truck and told me to take off in a nearby pasture when I was learning how to drive. I would cry in her lap an hour later when she discovered I ran over my own dog in the process.
She and I would ride down dark gravel roads in the summer time. She would pretend the car broke down as she tried to scare me with some pretty original stories.
She wrecked her car on the day I was born. When a historic ice storm hit the Natchez area in 1982, she hit an expensive BMW trying to skid into the hospital where I was being delivered. She left the car in the middle of the road and wobbled up the icy emergency ramp to be with my mother.
She would rescue me when I needed help. And she defended me when no one else would.
She loved me like her own daughter.
And despite our disagreements over the years, I loved her very much.
I have spent the last few days calling my uncle on the telephone to check on him. Sometimes, I find myself wishing she would answer instead.
I am trying to get back in my regular groove of things, but it’s hard to do knowing that my Aunt Sonya isn’t around anymore.
All I can do is hold it in and force a patient smile.
Eventually, it will begin to come more naturally.
Walter Patterson Herald ColumnistWhen I was a senior in college, I discovered, much to my chagrin, that I was short a required physical education course. I used every ploy that I could think of to get out of the course, but to no avail. The college was determined that I take the course, and since it was offered at a convenient time that worked well with my schedule, I did the only smart thing that I could do and enrolled.
When I arrived for the first class, I discovered that a “graduate assistant” would be conducting the class – not a coach or a PE teacher. “Graduate assistants” sometimes begin to think too much of themselves. Most of them are young and inexperienced and can be abusive to their underlings, in this case the freshmen students and the lone senior- me.
Time moved on, and I tolerated this “jerk” for about half the semester. He was a football player who weighed about 240 pounds, and he was all muscle. One day he took us to the running track, and once we arrived, he discovered that he had left his notebook. “Patterson, go to the gym and get my notebook. Turn your shirt around so that you will look like you are coming back,” he said. I heard some of the girls snicker. For some strange reason, I was in a defiant mood, and I didn’t move.
“Did you hear me, son?” he yelled.
“I heard you, big boy, and you have an option here. You can send someone else for the notebook or better still, you can go yourself. It’s your notebook,” I responded.
With that he charged at me like a defensive tackle going for a quarterback. I didn’t move. He stopped about five feet in front of me. “You can go get the notebook or one of us is going to get a tail whipping, he said, his face growing red with anger.
I would be lying if I said I could have won the fight. He was big, strong, fast, and he had the weight advantage, but I was willing.
Sometimes that’s enough. I mentally prepared for the fight that I knew was not going to end well for me. “Come on over here and get your tail whipping,” I replied, my eyes focusing on his chin. I was going to throw that first punch at his chin. Beyond that, I didn’t have a plan. I heard the girls gasp. Violence was about to unfold right before their very eyes.
Just before I uncorked the “chin shot,” I heard him mumble, “O heck, I’ll just do it myself.” With that, he disappeared into the gym. Fortunately, I did pass the course and graduate. Believe it or not, the football player treated me with respect from that point forward. We were never friends, but we co-existed for the remainder of that final semester. The freshmen girls seemed impressed, too.
I tell this story to say this: People, and especially boys, have changed since I was a youngster. The American feminist has asserted herself into almost every walk of life, and frankly, boys have been neglected.
Schools have neglected boys for years, and even the Supreme Court has ruled that women’s sports and men’s sports must be financed equally. Women have been encouraged by feminist to go out for football or other contact sports although they are not physically adapted to take the vicious hits that boys are. The military has been forced to put women in combat roles even though women are weaker physically and simply do not have the stamina of a male soldier.
If you watch TV, you may think that women are the only ones who contract diseases and die. We hear endless public service announcements to fight breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and other diseases common to women, but there is not even a midnight message about masculine diseases – especially those that affect boys between the ages of 12 – 18. It’s a though these young people don’t exist.
Unfortunately, we have created a generation of “Metro-men.” Many are sensitive, caring and smart, but somewhere along the way, that masculine edge, that natural aggressiveness, has been diluted. Many are confused about their role in society and are often timid and withdrawn. The feminist have changed them into something they were never intended to be.
The natural boy-hood aggression that makes boys different from girls is slowly but surely being bred out.
Jamie Patterson Managing EditorI had to stop watching the news about two days after the tragic school shooting in Connecticut.
Even though I didn’t know a single person involved in this horrible act, I caught myself crying as the news reports continued to roll in.
Watching the reels and photographs flashing across the television screen, I began to see my own children amidst the crowd. And it broke my heart.
My biggest fear in life would have to be something happening to my children. It sends chills down my spine to even think about it.
Seeing the aftermath of the school shooting put things in perspective for me. This could have happened anywhere.
I was preparing a cup of coffee Monday morning when our son James came into the kitchen with a look of confusion.
“They said a bad guy shot a window out and started shooting people,” he said.
Forgetting that the morning news was still being broadcasted, my husband Jason and I quickly turned the television off.
As if he had already forgot about it, James went into his room and began to play with his dinosaurs. He was completely clueless of the evil that exists in his otherwise perfect world. I only wish I could still protect him from the harsh realities of life like that in the future...if shutting it out was only a click away.
I have done a lot of thinking since first hearing about the awful news on that Friday morning.
I let James sneak into bed with us that first night. Normally, I take him back to his own bed. But that night, I let him snuggle against me. There was comfort in feeling his cold feet against my leg and his breath hitting my face.
The next morning, I usually drag my feet to our daughter Elsie’s room. When she wakes up, it’s time for baths, breakfasts, clothes, wipes, diapers, the whole nine yards.
But on Saturday, I spent a few extra minutes in her room. She was grinning from ear to ear when I walked in to her. I picked her up and talked to her. I walked around the room with her, pointing to things on the wall.
The coffee and biscuits were put on hold that morning. The morning chores were never done. Errands were never ran.
I spent that morning watching my children color in their coloring books at the living room coffee table.
I have given each of them hugs and kisses at random moments since last weekend. Not that I didn’t do it anyway, but I held on a little longer than normal.
Last week’s shooting leaves so many questions on the table. And I don’t know the answers to any of them.
I do know that it was a wake up call for me. You are not promised tomorrow, and you never know what will happen with the passing of each day.
But you can embrace every moment.
It is easy to get caught up with the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Chores, bills and other worries tend to pile up and take control of you.
Perhaps I need to slow down a little more to enjoy this gift of life, to enjoy my family.
The dishes in the sink will get done eventually. The kitchen can be mopped later. And who has time to keep up with the Joneses.
Eat supper at the table instead. Run with your kids outside. Hold your husband’s hand in the car. Grab your kids and smother them with hugs and kisses for no reason. Let out a big laugh. Cry out all those bottled up feelings. Just enjoy life.
It is a precious gift that God has given us. And we should thank Him every day.
Walter Patterson Herald ColumnistI have some good friends who have a deer camp off of Highway 3, and the other night, I dropped by for a visit. I timed it so that supper would be on the table, and just prior to the advice that I was going to hear. If a man wants to hear volumes of advice, this is the place to come. Believe me, it’s worth about as much as you pay for it.
So as not to embarrass my friend, I will just refer to him as Oracle. He is always predicting future events like a stock market crash or some other catastrophe. He is highly intelligent so when he talks, it sounds as though he might know something that other people don’t know. My other close friend I will call the Interpreter. Oracle speaks and Interpreter breaks down his profound thoughts into language that we intellectually challenged people can understand.
After feasting on some deer steaks and hot biscuits, we retired to chairs that sat dutifully in front of the fireplace. Oracle took his pipe from his pocket, struck a match, and then proceeded to light the pipe. Soon, he was blowing puffs of smoke throughout the room. He leaned back in his recliner, cleared his throat, and then spoke.
“We’re in trouble, folks,” he began. He immediately had everyone’s undivided attention.
“It’s really bad,” Interpreter offered.
Oracle continued. “I’ve given a lot of thought to this apocalypse that the Mayans predicted would happen on December 21, 2012. The Mesoamerican Long Count calendar may have begun in 3114 B. C. and continued unerringly ever since, but it comes to an abrupt halt this December 21st.”
“That is bad news for the planet,” the Interpreter interjected. “Less than 12 days and it’s all over.”
“Have you ever heard of a giant sun named Betelgeuse? It’s in the Orion Constellation.” Oracle was getting my attention now.
“How do you pronounce that sun’s name?” I enquired.
“Beetle Juice. Just like the bug,” he explained.
He took a puff from his pipe and continued. Betelgeuse is located exactly 600 light years from earth. We know that someday it is going to explode, go supernova, light up the sky like you’ve never seen.”
Interpreter sat nodding his head. “It’s going to be bad” he muttered.
“Exactly 600 years ago on December 21, Betelgeuse exploded. Since it takes 600 years for light to travel from there to here, we won’t know it exploded until the light finally reaches here.” Oracle sounded like he worked for the Science Channel.
“Now that’s a problem,” Interpreter said. “When we see the explosion, it’s gonna be too late.”
“The Mayans knew this. They knew that Betelgeuse exploded because the aliens told them. That’s why the calendar ends,” Oracle proclaimed. He said this with the conviction of a man who had figured this whole thing out.
“The aliens like South America. They knew a lot of stuff, and they told the Mayans,” Interpreter explained.
“Just before we see the explosion, a greenish fog is going to settle over the earth. It’ll be like something we never seen. Now most scientists don’t think very much is going to happen, but believe me, Walter Patterson, they are wrong.” Oracle was getting a little worked up.
“Scientists are not always right,” Interpreter said. “They are wrong about this.”
“Two minutes past midnight, it’s all over. Betelgeuse has engulfed the earth with a firestorm that stretches all the way to the sun. The calendar is right. Time ends on December 21st.” There was a tone of sadness in Oracle’s voice.
“You can’t get prepared for this,” Interpreter explained.
“How do you know all of these things?” I asked.
“It’s a gift. I’ve always had it.”
“He’s always had it,” Interpreter explained. “Even when he was a little boy. I’ve known him all his life.”
Now I was depressed. The wise men of the deer camp had proclaimed that December 21 was in fact doomsday. I felt a little sick to my stomach. How was I going to prepare Miss Judy for the end?
I thanked them for a nice meal and headed for the front porch. Oracle followed. Just as I stepped onto the grass and headed for my truck, Oracle said, “It looks like there's going to be some water in that creek next to the T-Model stand. Come on down after Christmas, and we’ll shoot some ducks.”
My depression faded. The world once again had order. The green fog had lifted, Betelgeuse was back in its orbit, and ducks would be flying after Christmas.
Earth was once again a fine place to live. Merry Christmas!