Mardi Gras

Keith Williams, Kate Rushton headline 2018 GCCA royalty

The Gulf Coast Carnival Association’s royalty for 2018, the organization’s 110th year, are King d’Iberville Keith A Williams Sr. of Gulfport and Queen Ixolib Katherine Camille “Kate” Rushton of New York.

Katherine ‘Kate’ Rushton

Katherine Camille “Kate” Rushton has just turned 25 and lives in Manhattan’s eclectic and trendy Lower East Side — quite a heady experience for a Gulfport girl who is probably known for her artwork as much as her infectious laugh.

In New York, she works as coordinator of visual merchandising for Tumi Luggage Company’s global stores, designing window displays and creative directives for all their stores.

It should come as no surprise that she’s bringing some friends from The Big Apple.

“I’m bringing about eight friends with me” for the big, long weekend, she said. “This is the first time they’ll have been in the South, and every one of them is going to freak out.”

In a good way, that is. The huge party that is Mardi Gras is expected to be a revelation for these New Yorkers.

Rushton learned she would be queen through a clever ploy surrounding Mother’s Day that involved her sister Kimberley Rushton Wilson, who was queen in 2016.

“Kimberley contacted me. She said, ‘We’re surprising Mom when you’re flying in (for Mother’s Day),’” she said. When she got to the family’s house, “we were going to surprise her at (a friend’s) house, and Kimberley said I might want to go get a bottle of champagne for her in the wine cellar. So I get down to the wine cellar, and they’re all down there, everybody, and I knew what was going on, and Mom started crying.”

Months of preparation go into planning each Carnival season, and that includes costumes. Sheila Gray is the costume designer for Gulf Coast Carnival Association. Each year, she makes a major trip for material, and this time, she had a personal guide.

“Sheila Gray comes to New York to get fabrics, and I was able to get the fabrics with her. It was super fun. I got to make the decisions with here on what I want,” Rushton said. “I cried when I saw my dress. The dress part was super fun. It’s a bit of a different queen’s dress. I was asking Sheila, ‘Can we do this? With this?’ ”

She admits she likes to “go big,” and her costume reflects that.

“My mantle is — not small,” she said. “Big and sparkly is the theme for everything, and it’s definitely my personality. Everything definitely reflects me.”

Rushton has several family affiliations with Carnival, but her earliest memory of the season is about a favorite babysitter.

“I remember when I was super young, Annie Anderson Mahoney was my babysitter, and she was queen one year (2008). Anything she wanted to do, I wanted to do. I realized that someday, I wanted to stand up there in that dress, too,” she said.

Rushton has ridden “a couple of times” in previous GCCA parades. The excitement of the crowd can be contagious for a float rider, she said.

“Seeing them screaming and their smiling faces, you think, ‘This is what they came out here for,’ ” she said. “You feel like a celebrity, and it’s so fun. You’re holding up a throw that everybody’s looking at and you know you have their attention. You’re saying, ‘Who wants it? Who wants it?’ And there’s no feeling like it.

“We’re here to have fun and spread joy,” she added. “It’s great to see families having fun together and being part of that.”

Keith A. Williams Sr.

Keith A. Williams Sr. met his wife of 32 years, Shelley P. Williams, while they were both students at Delta State University.

“Shelley played basketball at Delta State, and I played football. She’s from Tunica. So the football players lived in one dorm a bit off the main campus, and being athletes, the coach expected us to get breakfast every morning. I really think he wanted to make sure we were all up for our first classes, too, but he told us that breakfast was the most important meal of the day. My roommate and I would drive to the cafeteria every morning, and we would pass her walking. I told my roommate, ‘One day, we’re going to pick her up and give her a ride to the cafeteria.’ Finally we did that, and 32 years later, here we are,” he said.

Keith Williams is Hancock Bank’s Mississippi regional president. He’s been working with the bank since 1987, and that’s another record of which he is proud.

“It’s vital to all areas to have a good business environment,” he said. “As a banker, when (Hurricane) Katrina came through, I chose to stay on the Coast. I didn’t think about relocating, and my family supported that.”

The outdoors draws him and his two sons, Keith Jr. and Kyle.

“I love the outdoors. My boys and I hunt duck and deer, and we fish. I enjoy going to Costa Rica to catch sailfish. There’s a group of guys who go every year to fish and relax,” he said. “The whole family loves to go to Perdido Beach. My parents have a condo there, and we get together and go there whenever we can.”

GCCA has long been a part of King d’Iberville 2017’s life. His father, Walter “Pi” Williams, has held several positions within the organization, and that tradition continues with Keith Williams, his sons and other relatives.

“My dad is a Biloxian, and I remember back when I was 8, 9 or 10 dressing up with my brother, sister and cousins as hobos and pulling wagons. As I got older, my dad got more involved and was captain for two years. You know, captains are really the unsung heroes.

“I have a lifelong love affair with GCCA.”

Seeing families enjoying Fat Tuesday is one of the joys of being part of the organization, he said.

“It’s wonderful seeing families come together. A lot of people think it’s just a great big party. But on holidays, people spend time together, and this is one of our holidays. The parade is our way of giving back to the community. People from ages 5 to 90 are out there enjoying it,” he said.

Tammy Smith: 228-896-2130, @Simmiefran1

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