GULFPORT -- One of David Kidd's most prized possessions is what is left of a wooden spoon that stirred the roux at his restaurant, Lil' Ray's, for many, many years. But the utensil is not what's special to him -- it's the woman who used it to make gumbo.
Jackie Dixon is head honcho in the kitchen at Lil' Ray's in Gulfport, and she has been for nearly 40 years.
"She used to wear down those spoons when she was making gumbo," Kidd said. He took the spoon, which was withered away at the top, and bought her a new one.
"I didn't see what was the big deal or why I had to get another one," Dixon said. "I didn't even notice the spoon was like that. I thought that it was just the way it was made."
Kidd put her name on the stick, framed it and put it at the front of his restaurant.
"Jackie is absolutely my No. 1, right-hand person in this business," he said. "She's truly a big part of this business. I've told her in the past, let me know you're ready to retire, because I'm going with you. You're not leaving me here."
Dixon, a Gulfport native, started working for Kidd in 1977. She'd graduated from high school the year before.
"When I finished high school, I needed some money," she said. "I used to get a check from Daddy. Once you finished school, if you didn't go to college, you didn't get it no more."
A Lil' Ray's cook named Cynthia knew Jackie was looking for a job, and the restaurant was looking for another cook.
Forty years ago, Dixon said, "it was just French fries and the seafood and the po-boys."
There were no dishes to wash, there was no gumbo or red beans and rice to cook or salads to chop.
"It was easier, but it was busier, because it just went so fast," she said. "Everything was so quick."
Through new menus, new items and a new concept, Dixon has stuck by Kidd's side, and he said he is forever grateful for her dedication. "She's a very quiet person, but she's very, very diligent about her work," he said. "She's grown to become an actual part of the family in our eyes."
Kidd said she is an excellent multi-tasker. She comes into work every day at 9 a.m. and starts cooking, and she's never burned anything. She preps in the morning and usually works the grill through the lunch rush. She gets off about 4:30 p.m.
"She is absolutely something to watch in the kitchen," he said. She would have an 8-gallon pot of gumbo on the stove, as well as a 5-gallon pot of gravy and a pot of red beans -- and she would maintain those items while taking orders.
Other than when she gave birth to her two children, Kidd said, she has never missed a day of work.
"We had this one rule, Jackie and me, we weren't allowed to be sick or miss work," he said.
One time, former employees threw Dixon an anniversary party and took her out on the town on that Friday night.
Dixon does not drink and isn't a fan of dancing, and Kidd warned her co-workers not to get her drunk, for she would miss work.
"I was sick, but I came to work," she said.
Dixon said she did not really think about staying at Lil' Ray's for so long when she took the job, but the job, in fact, chose her. She's raised her children and grandchildren in the restaurant and watched David and Pamela Kidd's daughter, Jenny, grow up.
Jenny Rabby will take over when her father retires, and she and Dixon will rule the roost on Courthouse Road.