Harrison County

Biloxi says good-bye to two favorite sons in one week


Biloxi lost two lifelong residents and favorite sons this week when Salvadore "Penue" Taranto, 78, died Sunday and Thomas "Lynn" Patterson, 71, on Monday.

"Not only did Biloxi lose two icons -- the state did," said Walter Blessey, who grew up with the two in East Biloxi and said they and their accomplishments were known across Mississippi.

Taranto lived on Holley Street and Patterson a few blocks away on Claiborne in what was called "Possum Neck" at a time when families didn't lock their doors and sports was everything. Taranto was a member of the Biloxi Boxers Club and Patterson a football player.

Shortly before his funeral, regulars at Burger Burger on Howard Avenue shared stories of Patterson, a founding member of "The Breakfast Bunch."

During the 1962 Shrimp Bowl when Biloxi High played Vicksburg, Patterson was busted up and bloodied, recalled Charles McMahon. "It didn't stop him. He kept playing," McMahon said. Biloxi High won.

Patterson was recruited by legendary football coach Paul "Bear" Bryant for the University of Alabama and later played semi-pro football with the Mobile Bay Buccaneers.

He was very active in Little League and other Biloxi youth sports and Blessey said he gave money -- most of it anonymously -- so kids had the equipment they needed.

He operated Patterson Plumbing and Heating for 47 years and among his many community activities, he served on the Biloxi Plumbing Board.

"He was a very valuable member and brought a tremendous amount of experience and leadership to the board," said Jerry Creel, community development director.

Biloxi Mayor Andrew "FoFo" Gilich went to the Gulf Coast Military Academy with Patterson, and he remembers Taranto playing with the Coast band Rockin' Rebels.

"He was sort of the Frank Sinatra of the group," Gilich said.

Taranto and Blessey were the two Biloxi guys who played at Gus Stevens and other Coast nightclubs. Taranto played the upright bass. "He also had a respectable voice," Blessey said, and the audience would shout out they wanted him to sing "Just a Dream," "Matilda" or one of the other favorites of the day.

Taranto was a driving force in Biloxi. When the casino referendum was defeated on the first vote, he learned the musicians, bartenders and other people who would benefit most from the casinos didn't get out to vote. He was instrumental in forming "Musicians for Gaming," Blessey said, a group that held jam sessions and raised awareness at the VFWs and American Legions. The referendum passed the second time.

He also restarted the Biloxi Boys Boxing Club in a building outside the old hangar at Point Cadet, and Blessey said it got teens off the street and into the boxing ring.

"Sal knew that boxing was a big part of Biloxi's story," Gilich said. Taranto helped bring a Yugoslavian boxing team to the city and also the Gulf State Regionals and the Golden Gloves competition.

"It was elegant," said Gilich of the sport back then, and unlike the brutal cage fighting of today, taught discipline and dedication.

"What a mark he made on the community," Blessey said.

Both were interred this week at Biloxi City Cemetery.