Harrison County

Biloxi loses jitterbugging, bingo-playing former councilman, justice

Roy Mattina Sr. served on the Biloxi City Council from 1981-85. This photo was taken in 1982.
Roy Mattina Sr. served on the Biloxi City Council from 1981-85. This photo was taken in 1982. File

While his brothers hunted, Roy Mattina Sr. danced.

The 92-year-old Biloxi native was always one of a kind. He was from a tight-knit generation born and raised on Point Cadet, a peninsula settled by immigrants on Biloxi’s eastern tip. Mattina was proud of his Italian heritage in a neighborhood where there were societies for residents of French, Italian and Slavic descent.

He was the last living member of the Biloxi City Council that inaugurated the city’s mayor-council form of government, from 1981-85, after the city switched from a commissioner government.

He grew up in a Point neighborhood fondly known as Possum Neck. Mattina left high school early to join the Navy, but was later awarded an honorary diploma from Biloxi High School.

He served during World War II aboard the U.S.S. Sangamon, a carrier hit by a kamikaze pilot in 1944. Mattina saw some of his crewmates buried at sea.

When he returned to Biloxi, Mattina stayed put. He was married for 59 years to Ursula M. Mattina, who passed away in 2005.

Mattina, who suffered from Alzheimzer’s disease, passed away Saturday. His children were busy Monday planning a eulogy for a man who had several careers, was devoted to his family and was widely known as a jokester. They were saving their best material for the service, which will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church.

Politics and sales

Mattina worked as a salesman, then opened his own business, Roy’s News and Tobacco Store on Howard Avenue. Roy Mattina Jr. said he learned from his father how to count change and make sure you didn’t get cheated. The elder Mattina said his son should always keep the bill he was handed on the register until he made change, just in case the customer decided to claim he had handed over a larger denomination.

His father was big on sports and sportsmanship too, coaching in the Babe Ruth League, which became the pony and colt leagues, then Little League. He taught his children they should always be good sports.

Mattina served as a justice of the peace, the predecessor to Justice Court judges, before he was elected in 1981 to the City Council. He defeated Dianne Harenski in 1981, then she beat him in the 1985 race.

“We had some political differences, obviously, but we represented the same area and the same people,” Harenski said. “I think he did some good. He was on the first council. They started writing the rules of the mayor-council form of government.”

Mattina eventually went to work at Pringle Ford. He was a persistent salesman. His son said some customers bought cars from him just so he would stop calling. Ford Motor Co. acknowledged him with a sales award, the National Top Hatter Award.

In later years, Mattina ran a liquor store he owned with his wife, tucked behind Roy Jr.’s insurance business on Pass Road.

‘Are you sure?’

For years, Mattina ran bingo games for the church, the Biloxi Elks and the Italian-American Society. He also raised money for the Catholic nuns through an annual nuns appreciation dinner.

Mattina’s two brothers always loved the outdoors, but not him. He preferred to jitterbug, even winning an award while he was in the Navy.

“Dad was the dancer in the family,” Roy Jr. said. “He didn’t like the outdoors, being in the woods and the country like his siblings.”

“He was very nocturnal in nature. He worked overtime when everybody else was going home in the evening.”

He was, above all, a family man. In addition to Roy Jr., he was father to Jeff and Zachary Mattina and Christy Mattina Demoran, who had a special relationship with her father as the only girl. He had 10 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

Mattina was living at Greenbriar Nursing Center. Alzheimer’s had robbed him of many memories, but he never forgot how to put a bingo chip on a number. Until shortly before his death, he was the only man playing bingo in a room full of women.

He was never good at remembering names. In cases where he forgot, he referred to men as “Charlie” and women as “Slim.”

As a Justice of the Peace, he married many couples. He was fond of telling them: “Are you sure you want to do this? It’s only going to take us seven minutes to go through this ceremony. If you change your mind, it’s going to take a lot longer than that.”

Anita Lee: 228-896-2331, @calee99