Harrison County

Nobody went to his funeral but veteran, storyteller and artist touched lives

A young Jerry Wayne Pino smiles in this photo provided by his son, Adrian.
A young Jerry Wayne Pino smiles in this photo provided by his son, Adrian.

Jerry Wayne Pino was not just a Navy veteran who had no one at his funeral.

Pino, 70, who died at his home Dec. 12, was thrust into the spotlight he had hoped to avoid when he was buried Dec. 27 at Biloxi National Cemetery.

The reason people took notice? Six Long Beach High School students served as pallbearers for him because the Harrison County Coroner’s Office could find no next of kin despite three weeks of searching.

Amanda Dunaway said in a Facebook post Pino often told her she was his only friend. Dunaway, who now lives in McComb, is a nurse practitioner. She had known Pino since 2011, and had kept in touch with him after she moved away from the Coast last summer. She hadn’t heard from him lately and said she was devastated to hear of his passing.

She wrote, “My heart ached at the thought of him being alone in his final hours and having no one to pay their respects. I am so touched by the thoughtfulness of the young men who stepped up to be pallbearers at the burial of one of our U.S. Veterans.”

But she also wanted to shed some light on who Pino was as a person, calling him a “true Southern gentleman who was very proud of his Southern drawl and he was devastated over the permanent loss of his voice after a prolonged respiratory illness.”

His son, Adrian, said he learned of his father’s death two days after the burial service. His father had family in the Baton Rouge area, he said, but had pretty much kept to himself.

Adrian Pino recalled his father working at a sign shop in Ville Platte, Louisiana, and drawing cartoons at the then–Morning Advocate in Baton Rouge.

“He was a good man,” the younger Pino said. “I have memories of growing up in Spanish Town (a historic district in Baton Rouge). He was an amazing artist.”

Pino studied fine arts at LSU, as evidenced by the framed drawings he gave Dunaway.

“I have several framed drawings hanging in my apartment that were gifts from him,” Dunaway said. “Remember the beautiful handcarved wooden sign that hung outside Vrazel’s restaurant (in Gulfport) with the gorgeous script logo? That was Mr. Pino’s artistry.”

Adrian Pino said he sent his father some art supplies a few years ago for Christmas. Found among his things at his Long Beach home was a painting that was signed to his son on the back.

Dunaway said Jerry Pino also worked at Vrazel’s and would tease her that he had the recipe for the restaurant’s famous crab and mushroom soup.

Bill Vrazel, the chef and owner of the restaurant, remembers Pino as a conscientious worker.

“He had lots of stories to tell and had lots of jobs in his life,” Vrazel said. “I thought he was a good guy, and I was disappointed that he didn’t want to stay.”

Vrazel recalled the signs Pino made for the restaurant. Pino approached the chef with a drawing of what he wanted to do and how much it would cost. Made of redwood and gold leaf, the signs hung on the restaurant until it closed on Dec. 15, 2012.

Pino was born on Thanksgiving Day in 1946, Dunaway said, and he loved to tell people the day the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade was being filmed for the movie “Miracle on 34th Street,” his mother was in the hospital giving birth to him.

It was no surprise, then, that his favorite holiday was Thanksgiving and he picked out the most beautiful pumpkin the Long Beach Rouses had to offer to proudly display on his porch, Dunaway recalled. He lovingly coated it with oil because he said this kept it pretty for much longer.

An avid reader and self-proclaimed night owl who eschewed television, Pino would stay up all hours of the night reading Melville, Steinbeck and Stephen King by the light of a hurricane lamp.

“He was sharp as a tack and could rattle off the synopsis of literary works like ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ and leave you enthralled by his gift of storytelling,” Dunaway said.

Kate Magandy: 228-896-2344, @kmagandy