“I was shocked,” Paula April said after she learned she was named this year’s Biloxi Lions Club Mother of the Year.
Wednesday officially was “Paula April Day” in Biloxi, as proclaimed by Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich during a luncheon in April’s honor at the Biloxi Yacht Club. In his proclamation, he said April had assisted in the establishment of the International Hospitality, Sales and Marketing Association on the Gulf Coast.
For years, she was director of marketing and sales at the Coast Coliseum, and before that worked her way up at the Royal D’Iberville Hotel.
Matt McDonnell, Coliseum executive director, worked with April for many years and congratulated her on social media Wednesday.
“Paula has been a mother to so many people for so many years,” he said. “She is still one of the hardest working women in show business. I miss her every day and am proud to call her my friend.”
Tears flowed during Wednesday’s ceremony as her family and friends spoke of the impact she’s made in their lives.
April, who didn’t know she was receiving the award, was surprised when her 14-year-old granddaughter, Madeline, not normally one to get up and speak, headed to the microphone. She told the audience how her grandmother supported her, April said.
She and her husband, Arch, have two children, Arch and Angela, and April said she got an even bigger surprise when her son stood up to talk about his mother.
April’s sense of humor is one of the qualities that has earned her many friends, and she joked that after the speeches she now knows what people will say at her funeral.
She’s always volunteered in her church and community, and even more so since she retired five years ago. She helped the Rev. Patrick Mockler, “Father Paddy,” at Our Lady of Fatima Church in Biloxi for years, and when he was transferred to Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Pass Christian, he persuaded her to add that church to her volunteer duties.
She reads to kindergarten, first- and second-grade students at Gaston Elementary School two or three times a month and organizes the teacher appreciation luncheon there. She’s an honorary trustee with the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art and is active in her sorority, the Beta Sigma Phi-Alpha Master Chapter.
“I stay really busy,” she said.
One of the things she and Arch have given up is their elaborate Christmas open house for 400 guests. She misses it, but April said she promised her husband she would cut back on the Christmas party and decorating.
They’ve lived in Biloxi for more than 30 years, after he retired from the Air Force.
“We always tell people we elected to retire here,” she said. It wasn’t his last assignment, but she said Biloxi is where they chose to call home.