The handful of people in Itawamba County who didn’t know the late Billy Joe South … and that number is likely very, very small … really missed out.
South, who passed away last week at the age of 77, was one of those people whom everyone just knew. Sure, he ran the Amoco service station in downtown Fulton seemingly forever, and he served as a volunteer of the Dorsey Friendship Fire Department for more than two decades. But it was more than that. Ask anyone who had any contact with South, no matter how small, what the man was like and be prepared to be bombarded by the kinds of stories that would make tall tales seem a bit minuscule. Big-hearted, community-minded and able to wield profanity like a master painter wields a brush, South was bigger than life.
There are hundreds of tales that could be told about Billy Joe South (most of which, word has it, aren’t fit for print); here are just a few of them:
Angels don’t always have wings.
I know this to be true because I never saw wings tucked under Billy Joe South’s white work shirt, but he was an angel. Larger than life, with a witty sense of humor and “salty” vocabulary, Billy Joe was a solid steward of Fulton. He stood point at his Amoco gas station as a daily reminder that citizens should be good neighbors to each other.
For 27 years, I knew he had a special bond for children of this area. One day while working as a social worker for the county, I drove up for gas at the station with three children that I had removed from a dangerous situation during the night. They were all tired and terrified and had to leave home with only the clothes in which they had slept. He saw the children and immediately went into the station and returned with colas and snacks in his arms and tears in his eyes.
He finished pumping my gas and I went inside to pay. He came inside and gave me a hug and said, “Bless your heart for what you do.” He held out his hand, and I shook it and discovered he had put a folded up $100 bill in my hand. He told me, “Go buy those babies what they need.” He became my angel at that moment and continued to be my supporter throughout my career, never asking anything in return but remaining anonymous. I have kept his secret until now.
Another day, I was with a foster child who was having surgery at NMMC. The child awoke and became hysterical. They brought me in to calm her. I was comforting the child and heard this loud voice cursing vehemently from behind the curtain next me. I peeked around the curtain and found Billy Joe agonizing in pain from knee surgery. He taught me words that day that would make a sailor blush. Several weeks later, I visited with him on his throne (the blue bench) at the station and told him of the encounter. He resumed his rant about the pain and we had a laugh.
I hosted a shower for his granddaughter, Brandi, several years ago in my home. Mark and I had formed a friendship with her and Jamie through the years at East Fulton Restaurant. I wanted to do something special for the couple, but I really did it to do something special for Billy Joe in thanks for his being my secret angel. He came in after he closed the station and joined the celebration with his family, his most prized possession.
I saw his wings that night.
- Paula Cooper
I have been a friend with Billy Joe since 1987. I have bought 99 percent of my gas from him and I will still buy gas there in his honor. He was a very good man who would help you in any way. He will be missed by many people in this county.
- Ralph Mason
I’ve known Billy Joe South for a very, very long time. We organized the Dorsey Friendship Fire Department in March of 1986 and he was there from the beginning. When you work with a group like that for as long as we have, you become family. There’s no doubt about that.
Billy Joe was a very faithful member of our fire department. He was always a community-minded, community-hearted person. That was the basis of who he was: What he could do for others. All week long, I’ve heard stories about Billy Joe branching out all over Northeast Mississippi.
Speaking of stories, he always had a story or joke to tell. No matter where or when he saw you, he would tell one. Most of them I can’t repeat here.
Now, one joke he’s always gotten me with was, “Did you here the one about the guy who was working on the water tank there in Fulton?” I’d always tell him, “no.” Then he’d say, “He ran around and around and around the tank looking for a place to go to the bathroom.”
There was never a dull moment for as long as he was around. For good or bad. Either way.
- Tami Beane
Billy Joe and I were competing with one-another in business. I was up the road running the Gulf BP service station and he was down the road running the Amoco.
Back in Jan. 1997, I was having to close my business. Well, Billy Joe comes pulling up there and saw that I was having to leave. He said to me, “You’re leaving?” and I said “Yeah.”
“Well,” he said, “you were a darn good competitor.”
That meant a lot to me.
- Daniel Luther
My husband worked for Billy Joe more than 25 years ago.
I was dating him way back then, so I practically lived at the station and on Billy Joe’s farm during my teen years. From the moment you met Billy Joe you loved him for embarrassing you with his quick wit, tell-no-lie, say-exactly-what-he-was-thinking sense of humor. He always picked on me, but in a loving way. I knew if I ever had vehicle trouble, no matter where or when, I could call the station or his home and he would come or send someone to the rescue.
Billy Joe loved my husband like his own child. He spoiled our two boys with snacks, drinks, give-me-fives and see-ya-later winks. He loved his family and his friends to death. If he was giving you heck, he loved you like he loved his chewing tobacco. Some of my fondest memories are of his and Ms. Nelda’s farm. They always had the prettiest calves, horses and beagle puppies. I loved spending Sunday afternoons with them on their porch talking about horses, bailing hay, etc. To us, his best, most meaningful saying when someone accidentally messed something up, was “If you never tear nothing up, you ain’t never doing nothing.” To explain how fast something was he would say, “It was so fast, it could outrun a phone call.” He would always tell my boys he caught a fish, “so big he cut its tail out and used it as a hula hoop.” There are many, many more, but not G-rated for the newspaper.
- Pooh, Amy, Owen and Evan Taylor