Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, September 15, 2023

Rogers column: Buffett’s home was not just a beach somewhere

The death of Jimmy Buffett – the “poet of paradise,” as President Biden described him – calls to mind for me the degree to which cities or states can rightfully stake a claim to celebrities.

You’ve perhaps read in the various obits and tributes since his passing that Buffett was born in Pascagoula, Mississippi, on Christmas Day 1946. But, as it happens, Buffett and I started life’s journey in the very same building, six-plus years apart. And neither one of us was born in Pascagoula.

Despite what any official document may say.

I’m conservative when it comes to associating famous people with their beginnings, particularly as regards my home state. For example, it’s not enough to have merely been spawned in Mississippi and then to have been whisked off elsewhere. (Sorry, Britney Spears.)

That sort of person may qualify, strictly speaking, as a Mississippi native. But he or she is not a Mississippian.

I don’t require cradle-to-grave residence, a la William Faulkner or Eudora Welty, though that does provide the strongest link. Mississippi’s most famous personage, Elvis, was relocated by his parents to Memphis in 1948 when he was 13, but I’d argue the Mississippi years were his most formative and influential. His first guitar, courtesy of his mother, Gladys, came from Tupelo Hardware in 1946. (Thank you, Les Kerr, fellow Mississippian and current Nashville troubadour, for that bit of trivia.)

Sundry other luminaries followed the same pattern. Jim Henson of Muppet-creation fame, for instance, was born in Greenville in 1936 but moved to Maryland in the late 1940s. Faith Hill was born near Jackson in 1967, but chased stardom at age 19 and moved ... here.

Buffett is another example of that type, though of earlier departure. He moved with his family to nearby Mobile before starting school. But a 2014 article in a Pascagoula newspaper said that “Buffett has maintained ties to Pascagoula over the years through relatives including his grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins.”

And, in his 1998 book “A Pirate Looks at Fifty,” he wrote: “I move around the globe in an almost constant state of motion. But when I think of home, I think about Pascagoula and the eastern shore of Mobile Bay, not Long Island or Florida.”

What’s more, the columnist Maureen Dowd reports this: “As he was dying, said his brother-in-law, the writer Tom McGuane, he was talking about going home to Pascagoula, Miss.”

No, I don’t dispute the Pascagoula connection for Buffett. He clearly felt it. And the city figures in the lyrics of at least two of his songs, “Pascagoula Run’’ and “Lip Service.” The city repaid the tributes when it named a bridge for Buffett in 2015. He attended the dedication and played a 40-minute set along the beach, to boot.

But a word here about Pascagoula. It abuts my hometown, Moss Point. When I was young, it represented our greatest rival in all athletic competitions and, generally speaking, everything else. Being larger and generally better off financially, Pascagoula often came out ahead in those contests. For Moss Pointers that just contributed to the perception of ourselves as eternally overlooked underdogs. And old prejudices die hard ... if at all.

As for my and Buffett’s shared nativity site, formerly the Jackson County Hospital and now a nursing home: It is in Moss Point. So I’ve always thought of Buffett as a Moss Pointer who, through no fault of his own, got miscategorized.

A minor complication to my belief, I’ve recently learned, is that the hospital was not in Moss Point at the time Buffett was born. Nor, unfortunately, when I was born. But it wasn’t in Pascagoula, either. It was in an unincorporated part of Jackson County.

About any official document: I suspect that Buffett’s birth certificate, by the space marked Place of Birth, City or Town, says “Pascagoula.” Because mine does. Damn it.

Joe Rogers is a former writer for The Tennessean and editor for The New York Times. He is retired and living in Nashville.