Local

Coast lost a lot of bright stars, community leaders this year

A horse-drawn hearse carries the casket of Jerry O'Keefe to Evergreen Cemetery in Ocean Springs.
A horse-drawn hearse carries the casket of Jerry O'Keefe to Evergreen Cemetery in Ocean Springs. ttisbell@sunherald.com File

The last 12 months brought heartache to many across the Coast bereaved of their loved ones.

Just as 2016 marked the deaths of celebrities, authors, musicians and other famous people, the year also marked the deaths of notable South Mississippi residents.

Though many others could have qualified, we tried to include those most recognizable by the majority of our readers. The names appear in no particular order.

Former Biloxi mayor Jerry O'Keefe died Tuesday at 93. Services for O'Keefe were held Saturday in Biloxi and Ocean Springs. Video by Jeff Clark/Sun Herald

Jerry O’Keefe: The former Biloxi mayor and philanthropist was a decorated U.S. Marine Corps ace pilot in World War II. O’Keefe died Aug. 23.

Pete Fountain: The famous clarinetist was a New Orleans native who also had a home in Bay St. Louis until Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Fountain died Aug. 6.

Friends and family of Jessie Bardwell gather at Pascagoula River Park to celebrate her life on Saturday, June 11, 2016. Her brother, Brandon Bardwell, talks about the promise they made years ago and how the family is dealing with the loss.

Matthew Roberts: The Escatawpa native rose to fame in the early 2000s as guitarist for the rock band 3 Doors Down. Roberts died of a drug overdose Aug. 20.

Matt Roberts, a co-founder of 3 Doors Down, rehearses "It;'s Not My Time" with NIX for a charity show in Wisconsin that benefitted Honor Flight. Roberts' father, Darrell, shot the rehearsal, the last time Roberts played before he died, the morning

Jessie Bardwell: The 27-year-old Pascagoula woman was a popular free spirit who had many friends and loved ones along the Coast. Her funeral was followed by memorials that brought together hundreds who mourned her passing. Bardwell had been reported missing by her parents, who lost contact with her in May after she moved to Richardson, Texas, with her boyfriend. Her body was found in rural Farmersville, Texas, on May 19. Investigators believe she died in late April or early May.

Joe Gazzo: The retired state trooper died July 26. He served the Mississippi Highway Patrol for 28 years and was the MHP’s public information officer for South Mississippi.

William “Billy” Phelps: The former Harrison County District 3 constable served at his post for 23 years. Phelps died Dec. 19.

Terry Miller: The Ocean Springs resident served as Jackson County chancery clerk for 17 years, was a former Jackson County Port Authority commissioner and a past director of the Jackson County Economic Development Foundation. Miller died Jan. 26.

Ruby Dickey: The co-founder of Dickey Brothers Memorial Funeral Home in Biloxi was known for her faith and participated with her husband in the Biloxi beach wade-ins during the civil rights era. She died Aug. 8.

Robert Mohler: The founder of the TatoNut Donut Shop in Ocean Springs served in the Navy during World War II, played football at Mississippi State University and with the semi-pro Biloxi Galloping Gales, and owned several other businesses. As the patriarch of the family, he is survived by many children and grandchildren. He died July 29.

Bay St. Louis Police Chief Mike De Nardo was laid to rest in a service at Gulf Coast Memorial Cemetery after he killed himself last week outside the police department.

Mike De Nardo: The Bay St. Louis police chief was being relieved of his duties just before he fatally shot himself behind the police station Sept. 8.

Doris Riemann: The matriarch of the Riemann family of South Mississippi, which owns Riemann Family Funeral Homes, died Aug. 5.

Wayne Woodall: The South Mississippi defense attorney had a firm in Gulfport and practiced for nearly 35 years until his death June 6.

Adelchi Pilutti: The Ocean Springs resident was a World War II hero who parachuted behind enemy lines as a member of the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne Division, which cleared the way for the Allied invasion of France on June 6, 1944. Pilutti died Sept. 9.

James “J.R.” Welsh: The Mobile native was a career journalist who worked at many newspapers, including the Sun Herald, the Sea Coast Echo, The Times-Picayune and the Orange County (California) Register. As an editor, he and his teams at both The Times-Picayune and the Orange County Register won Pulitzer Prizes for reporting. Welsh died April 15.

Gregory Allen Smith: The Ocean Springs resident was known as The Strength Coach for his love of sports and being born with muscular dystrophy. He lived long past doctors’ expectations. He was a radio host, author and motivational speaker. Smith died June 2.

Genevieve Skrmetta Creel: As the daughter of Croatian immigrant Peter Skrmetta, founder of Ship Island Excursions, she worked on the Ship Island Ferry growing up and was a longtime member of the Slavonian Lodge. She died Nov. 27.

Jay Morris: The Saucier resident was an avid bird watcher who wrote a weekly birding column for the Sun Herald. He also played a role in refurbishing the Clower-Thornton Nature Trail in Gulfport. Morris died July 1.

Joe Krebs: The Pascagoula resident worked at Ingalls Shipbuilding for 39 years, served in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War, sat on the board of directors for Navigator Credit Union and was inducted into the Mississippi Credit Union Hall of Fame. Krebs died May 1.

Robert Thomas “Bob” van Aller: The longtime chemistry professor at the University of Southern Mississippi and dean of its graduate school was know for his work with USM’s Gulf Coast Research Laboratory in Ocean Springs. He died Dec. 1.

Herb Moore: The Ocean Springs philanthropist sat on the board of directors for the Walter Anderson Museum and founded several local art initiatives. Moore died Dec. 20.

Other notable deaths: Ernie Zimmerman of Waveland; Bob Donald Jr. of Pascagoula; Richard Shropshire of D’Iberville; Terri Bailey of Jackson County and Clyde Gunn Jr. of Pascagoula.

Top 10 series

The Sun Herald is compiling the biggest stories of 2016. This week we’ve published the top local news, business, entertainment and sports stories, along with the most inspiring stories and our photographers’ favorite photos and videos. Saturday’s edition will include a list of everyday people who ended up in the spotlight.

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