Harrison County

He couldn’t really afford to help the poor, but this custodian did it anyway.

Gene A. Wise Sr.
Gene A. Wise Sr.

Gene A. Wise Sr. frequently put money in St. Anthony’s box for the poor at church, even though his earnings were meager and he had four children to support.

“He had a good heart,” said his wife of 57 years, Marie Etta Wise. “Gene really had a good heart.”

They met while he was working as a newspaper boy for The Daily Herald and she was visiting an aunt in Pass Christian. He called her a couple of times while serving in the U.S. Marines. They started dating and married after he returned to the Coast.

One of his sons, Dean Wise, said the Rev. Louis Lohan used to tell Wise he did not need to keep putting money in the poor box at St. Thomas Catholic Church but he didn’t listen. One time, Marie Wise said, Father Louis returned to her a check Wise had written for $100.

Wise worked for 37 years for The Daily Herald and its successor, the Sun Herald. He started out as a press setter and, when that job was no longer available, became company custodian.

He struck up friendships with employees throughout the building, including this reporter. He was always ready with a smile and a friendly word. His kind heart shone through his soft brown eyes.

Wise made sure he exposed his children to the beauty in the world. After Hurricane Camille destroyed their home in 1969, the Wises moved from Pass Christian to Long Beach, but the family also had a farm in the Kiln.

Wise would get home from work well before sunrise, load his children in his Volkswagen van and head for the farm.

They slept until sunrise on a pallet in the van, then woke up in the middle of a field on the farm. His dad was always hoping they would see a deer, Dean Wise said, but mostly, they saw rabbits and majestic sunrises.

His dad didn’t really have any hobbies, said Dean Wise, who works at the Sun Herald as district manager of logistics. “Here’s the thing about him,” he said, “When he was on vacation, he came to the Sun Herald and sat in the break room to see his friends.”

He loved to surprise his family with gifts. Marie Wise, who loved to design and make clothes, said one day a sewing machine arrived at the house. She was reluctant to accept it from the delivery man.

“The man said, ‘Ms. Wise, you better take this. It’s paid for,’” she recalled.

He had always loved taking walks and driving. If he saw a road he had never been down, he took it just to see what he would find.

When he loaded up the family for a Sunday drive, his wife knew to bring extra provisions because they might be gone for hours.

He retired at the close of 1994. Dean Wise said his father had a fender-bender around the same time. He decided then to give up driving altogether. He walked everywhere. One time, he even walked from Long Beach to Biloxi for a hair cut.

He made a lot of new friends on his travels. He got to know officers of the Long Beach Police Department, and the staffs at Waffle House and Sonic, two of his favorite stops.

When he stopped showing up at Sonic, several of the women who worked there were worried. They visited him at home, bringing a card and a chocolate milkshake, his favorite. Wise said they continued to deliver the shakes.

His father developed dementia and was prone to wander. He had to be admitted to a nursing home. When he needed surgery for a broken hip, the doctor could tell he had been either a walker or a runner because his heart was so strong.

Alas, Wise said, something went wrong with his bed a few weeks after the surgery and he was jolted while lying there. His hip was re-injured and he needed a second surgery. Complications set in and he died July 16.

He died peacefully, in his sleep, just as he had hoped. He passed away without an enemy in the world, his son said.

“He was just always friendly,” Wise said. “He could talk to anybody. Anybody in need, if he had it, he would help them.”

Anita Lee: 228-896-2331, @calee99