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Donating memories

During a poignant tribute to his family’s legacy, John H. Napier III donated his mother’s high school diploma to Picayune Memorial High School on Monday.

Standing in front of his father’s memorial plaque at Picayune Jr. High Napier, author of “Lower Pearl River’s Pineywood”, delivered the following speech:

“Memory, both personal and group, is a solemn thing and the stuff of history but it is elusive and fades like the signatures on this diploma. The last rememberers of the dead also die, leaving “oblivion’s swallowing sea”, Thomas Hardy. I am here today to share with you some memory of Picayune and its public schools, as well as to obey the Sixth Commandment.

“Picayune’s public schools began a century ago, shortly after it was incorporated in 1904. My grandfather Eastman Francis Tate, called “the Father of Picayune”, gave land for the fist Picayune High School on the site of the former East Side Elementary School and was first president of its board of trustees. His third child was my mother, Lena Mae Tate, born here May 1, 1895, at a house on the east side of South Harvey Avenue. She was valedictorian of Picayune High School’s first graduating class, May 17, 1912. The class consisted of three girls. More about her in a minute.

“Her future husband, Dr. John H. Napier, Jr., was also valedictorian of his class, the second class — 1913 — at Pearl River County Agricultural High School at Poplarville. After World War I Army service and receiving his B.S. at Mississippi A. and M. College, he went first to Arizona and then California. There he received his M.A. at the University of California. and a Ph.D. from Standford. In 1943 he brought our family back to Picayune as Superintendent of Picayune Public Schools until his untimely death in 1949 at the age of 52. He oversaw the building of this school.

“Four of my first graduated from Picayune High, as did my late brother Eastman Francis Tate Napier in 1950. I taught here briefly in fall of 1946. For 40 years and three generations we were part of Picayune’s public schools and they of us.

“Lena Mae Tate graduated from Judson College with a B.A. in 1916 and received two more diplomas there in Voice and Piano in 1917. Then she worked for a year in her father’s Bank of Picayune before going to Washington, D.C. at the close of World War I as an early career woman, an auditor in the Internal Revenue Service for nearly four years before marriage. Later in life she became the only Director of the Bank of Picayune and Vice President of Tate Insurance Agency, beside being wife, mother and homemaker. She didn’t need woman’s lib — she was way ahead.

Thank you all for coming and sharing in memory.”

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The diploma was handed over to Dean Shaw to hang at PMHS. The intimate ceremony took place at the Junior High, the site of the former Senior High — built on land donated by Napier’s grandfather, Eastman Francis Tate.

Napier’s wife Cameron accompanied him to Pearl River County for the presentation. The couple currently reside in Montgomery, Ala.