Ulysses Hegler Jr. wasn't loud or boisterous. He wasn't the life of the party, or gregarious, or even very social. But to his niece, Machell Dailey, Hegler was a hero.
"He was the first person in our family to get a college degree, so I really looked up to him for that," Dailey, 31, said by phone from her home in Warren, Ark.
Hegler, 47, died during Hurricane Katrina when his residence at Fountain Square Apartments, south of the railroad tracks on Camp Avenue in Gulfport, washed away. He was a longtime employee of International Paper and more recently worked "as a banker for Grand Casino," said Dailey.
"Before he passed away he'd kind of been chilling out while deciding what his next move in life was," she said. "He was thinking about moving back to Arkansas. Actually, I think the week before the hurricane, he put in his 30-day notice at his apartment."
Evacuation wasn't an option, said Dailey, because Hegler sold his car a couple of months before the storm. And like Hegler, family members out of state didn't realize the scope of the storm until too late.
Hegler, a reserved, quiet man, and Dailey had bonded in 2005, a year that saw the deaths of his mother and father.
"He was a wonderful uncle . . . We would e-mail each other all the time. It's how we'd stay in touch," she said.
Hegler and Dailey last corresponded at 3 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 28, hours before Katrina struck. His message to her read: "It's time to pray."