When Sophie and Watson Nord were in elementary school, all their classmates wanted to ride with their dad, Peter, on field trips when he was one of the chaperones.
“They’d say, ‘Can we go with Peter?’” Watson Nord said. “And the other adults would say, ‘OK, Peter, don’t get off track.’ But he would take a cool road, or take everybody through the McDonald’s drive-thru, and eventually he’d get everyone where they needed to be, a few minutes later than the others, but they got there.”
That was Peter Nord, a man who made life interesting not just for himself but for everyone around him.
Nord died Jan. 7. A celebration of his life will be held Jan. 15 at The Chimneys restaurant, which he and his wife, Dix, owned and operated together for years. As his obituary through Riemann Family Funeral Homes states: “Visitation with his family and friends will be at 2 p.m., a brief service will be held at 3 p.m., followed by, what else, a great party! The family asks that guests please dress casually. Wear blue if you can; any other bright color will do, but no black. He would hate that! (Untucked shirts are just fine.)”
Nord and his future wife, Dix Ballard, met in Colorado when Dix moved there after graduation from college. She and a friend went to a volleyball game, and there Dix met a young man with startlingly blue eyes.
He had lived all over, thanks to his father in the Air Foce who settled the family in Colorado. Dix and the young man hit it off right away, and a game or two of charades helped seal the chemistry. They married in 1976, had daughter Sophie (son Watson came along a few years later) and moved back to Natchez, Dix’s hometown. Her parents were one of three couples that founded the Cock of the Walk restaurant there, in Natchez Under the Hill, and the young couple became involved in the family business.
They moved to the Coast in the mid-1980s and opened a Cock of the Walk in Long Beach, Sophie Nord said. That Long Beach restaurant became The Chimneys a couple of years later, and the restaurant eventually moved into the Long Beach Harbor.
In 1999, a two-story 1900s Queen Anne house on U.S. 90 near downtown Gulfport became available, and the Nords set about restoring the faded grand dame. In 2000, The Chimneys opened in the house.
“Daddy did a lot of the work on it himself,” Sophie Nord said. “He restored the columns on the front, for instance.”
Hurricane Katrina delivered a heavy punch to the Nords, first destroying the restored home-turned-restaurant facing the beach, then their own home along Brickyard Bayou. But Peter and Dix were undeterred. Not only did Peter basically rebuild the family’s home, the Nords rebuilt their restaurant, opening in 2010. The celebration was bittersweet, however. Dix had been diagnosed with cancer, and she died two years later.
“After she passed, Daddy retired,” Sophie said. So to speak. Peter Nord might not have been officially working, but he couldn’t stay away. He would go in and do payroll, then hang out and talk with customers while his two children continued to run the restaurant.
And Peter Nord could talk about just about anything and everything.
“He loved to sit on the front porch (of The Chimneys) and visit with the customers,” Sophie Nord said. “He probably read more books than anybody else I know. He was always reading. He was an amazing artist, too; he could paint and draw. But he could talk with anyone about anything. He was just brilliant.”
She remembers her father picking her up from school as a little girl, then taking her home and teaching her watercolor on the back porch. “There was always stuff to teach, and he made it fun,” she said.
The man who made things fun also had a soft side for people.
“So many people have told me he was like a daddy to them. Both of my parents were like second parents to so many people,” Sophie Nord said. “He just had such a pure heart. He wanted the best for everyone.”