By: Sid Salter
Yeah, I know that this is the last column I have before the Mississippi U.S. Senate runoff, but the truth is I really don’t have much more to say about a race that I’ve been writing about all these many months. I think I’ve said my piece on that subject.
The runoff has been a mud fest that threatens to render both Republican U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith and Democratic challenger Mike Espy unrecognizable. Here’s some advice: Remember who you believed these two Mississippians were prior to the last month and vote accordingly. Because neither of them are what they are being accused of being over the last month.
Instead of another long screed on the Mississippi senate campaign, I’m going to write about something far more interesting, enlightening and inspiring – the life and home-going of my longtime friend and fellow Philadelphia native Merrill Binford “Snooky” Williams of Water Valley.
The Lord called Snooky home last Tuesday after 87 years of vibrant life and only a scant few of physical decline and suffering. His bright but easily diverted mind was sharp until the end. And like every good actor, “Snooky” left the stage with the audience wanting so much more.
For the record, Snooky spent the better part of the last decade battling cancer. The cancer robbed him of his physical strength and stamina, but it never touched his legendary sense of humor or his propensity to empower and encourage those in his orbit.
He and his family were our neighbors on Founder’s Square at the Neshoba County Fair. My friend Gale Denley and I were latecomers to the Square when we bought our original cabin from the Bruner Trapp family, but we had both known Snooky for years prior to that fateful transaction. Along with the late George Mars, we enjoyed each other’s company at the Fairgrounds immensely.
Snooky and Mary Lou, his lovely wife of 60 years, were without the Pied Pipers of the north side of the Square and marvelous hosts to thousands of Fair visitors. They developed a deep interest in the Thacker Mountain Radio Hour in Oxford. Soon, it became their mission to bring that Mississippi Public Radio weekly live show to regular performances at the Fair.
The Williams’ had long hosted large lunches on political days and large weekend parties, but that shifted after Thacker Mountain evolved to hosting the entire show’s company prior to their performances. It became a reunion of sorts and was a simply unique event. Snooky and Mary Lou were very much the patron saints of Thacker.
When I was in the midst of the worst chemotherapy for my cancer treatments in 2017 at North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo, Snooky was battling his own cancer at NMMC as well. He came to see me – thin, pale, and emaciated from his long battle – but with a smile on his face and a couple of jokes that I really needed to hear.
We embraced and both shed tears. He whispered: “Don’t you ever quit. You can do this, I know you can.” Snooky made it to the Fair that year. I didn’t. It would be Snooky’s last visit there. This past summer, I made it back to the Fair and was so sad when I learned that Snooky was unable to attend.
To say that I loved “Snooky” is an understatement – but then, who didn’t? He never met a stranger. I honestly never heard him say a mean thing about anyone. He was a carrier for kindness, decency and charity. God gave Snooky so many gifts, but chief among them was empathy. He felt the joys and sorrows of others and was able, most often, to share them without judgment.
Good Lord willing, I will return to the Fairgrounds next summer. George, Gale, and now Snooky are gone. What a void Snooky leaves in that experience for all of us who knew him!
But as at his wake, he would have us continue. Prior to his death, he schemed to have business cards printed to be given out at his funeral on Saturday. On one side was his name and the dates of his birth and death. On the other, a color photo of him smiling and tipping an outsized hat on the porch of his Fair cabin that read: “See you later…Snooky.”