The Pascagoula community is mourning the death of one of its most beloved sports figures, Walter Thornton.
The former Pascagoula High School football star and local radio show host died Sunday morning of an apparent heart attack at the age of 53.
While Pascagoula was his alma mater, Thornton was also closely connected to Moss Point and other communities in Jackson County.
"He was just an amazing guy," Pascagoula head football coach Lewis Sims said. "He was a community servant."
Thornton was a standout defensive tackle for the Panthers and a member of the 1976 squad that won the state championship. He graduated from Pascagoula in 1978 and remained connected to the school throughout his life.
Thornton served as the radio voice for Pascagoula and Moss Point football at different times and worked as a volunteer assistant football coach at both schools.
"He was one of the purest sports fans I've ever known," said Sims, who also served as head coach at Moss Point. "The guy knew more about Pascagoula and Moss Point sports than anybody I knew. He loved the history of both programs and he compiled record books for Moss Point and Pascagoula."
Resurrection Catholic football coach Scott Sisson credited Thornton for making contributions to several schools in Jackson County.
"He was also a big supporter for Resurrection when I took over last year," Sisson said. "He helped us out in his own way, whether it was on his radio show or with program ads. He was just a big sports person. If he had a friend connected to the program, he would help them."
Thornton also became well known in South Mississippi through his radio work. He first started in the business in the 1980's, working at several prominent radio stations along the Coast. Recently, he did morning and sports talk shows for TalkRadio WPMO 1580 in the Pascagoula-Moss Point Area and WVGG 1440 AM, which broadcasts in Lucedale.
Noah Britt, general manager for WPMO and WVGG, pointed to Thornton as a key figure for his two radio stations.
"The first person I wanted see (when Britt bought WPMO) was Walter because I knew I could build a station around him," Britt said.
Sisson, who has also coached at Pascagoula, Moss Point and East Central, was the best man for Thornton when he married his wife, Sherri.
"He was a great friend," Sisson said. "I'll miss him."
Thornton spoke to Sisson Thursday about a recent heart procedure he'd undergone.
"He had a stent put in his heart and he was real sore," Sisson said. "He was going to go back to the hospital Monday if the soreness hadn't left."
The wake is at 4 p.m. Tuesday at Our Lady of Victories Catholic Church with the funeral, which will be broadcast live on WPMO, to be at 6 p.m.