The kids at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College used to call the classes that Harry Stamps would teach as the “Stamps Comedy Hour” but, in truth, his classes were always the very first chosen because to spend any hour with him was absolutely priceless. As happens to all great men, Dean Stamps died last Saturday at age 80 but thank God there were two apples that didn’t fall far from the tree.
The Dean’s daughter, Amanda Lewis, is today an attorney who lives in Dallas and, as she and her family drove back to “the home place” on the Mississippi coast, she wrote perhaps the greatest obituary of our time through her laughter and her tears. The obituary – which immediately went viral and has become a “singular sensation” on the Internet -- appeared in the Sunday editions of the Biloxi-Gulfport Sun-Herald.
“(Daddy) wouldn't know what going viral means. He would have thought that was a disease he contracted, which would have excited him to have another illness to lord over folks," said the spunky Amanda who obviously fully inherited her dad’s zest for life.
“My sister, Alison, teaches English as a second language at (Mississippi State), and she edited it for me," Amanda said. "He so was not a 'the trumpets of Heaven are blowing' sort. This is who my dad was. I kept thinking of things -- there are a lot of things I just couldn't put in there -- and I thought, 'Mama's not going to let me run that.' But she read it and said, 'That's him,'" their oldest daughter beamed.
She also admitted, “Probably the best compliment I've gotten is that at least six people asked if he wrote it," she said.
He had suffered from diabetes late in life. After he was diagnosed, Amanda remembered him saying, “'Life's not worth living if I can't have butter on my sweet potatoes.' That pretty much summed up his point of view on things," Lewis said.
Harry Stamps was raised in New Hebron, where his father owned the Western Auto store and served as the town’s mayor. His father died when Harry was 12 and, as they do in small Southern towns, his aunts and cousins stepped in to help his mother, Wilma.
His students remembered Dean Stamps with staggering fondness. “He was a brilliant teacher, incredibly interesting. And you know, I have never heard a student or anybody else say a bad thing about Harry. They all couldn't wait for his class," said one colleague.
Some others made up a list of his axioms, calling them, “The World According To Stamps.” One went like this, “Bad things happen to a country, whether economically or socially, when the people in charge think they are smarter than everyone who came before them. Good things happen when the people in charge study what the last leaders did when the same crisis happened.”
Another of equal delight was this: "When great people in history are quoted, imagine yourself there and consider what they were actually thinking. Did Paul Revere really ride through the night yelling, 'The British are coming!' Did Nathan Hale really say, 'I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country.' What were they really thinking when they said such things? Were they so intelligent and thoughtful that the message was to soothe their families, or rally the troops, or get a certain reaction? What else did they say? What were they thinking?"
So as you regret you never had Dean Harry Stamps in class, I believe you’ll meet him in the delicious obituary his daughters wrote:
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HARRY WEATHERSBY STAMPS
Harry Weathersby Stamps, ladies' man, foodie, natty dresser, and accomplished traveler, died on Saturday, March 9, 2013.
Harry was locally sourcing his food years before chefs in California starting using cilantro and arugula (both of which he hated). For his signature bacon and tomato sandwich, he procured 100% all white Bunny Bread from Georgia, Blue Plate mayonnaise from New Orleans, Sauer's black pepper from Virginia, home grown tomatoes from outside Oxford, and Tennessee's Benton bacon from his bacon-of-the-month subscription. As a point of pride, he purported to remember every meal he had eaten in his 80 years of life.
The women in his life were numerous. He particularly fancied smart women. He loved his mom Wilma Hartzog (deceased), who with the help of her sisters and cousins in New Hebron reared Harry after his father Walter's death when Harry was 12. He worshipped his older sister Lynn Stamps Garner (deceased), a character in her own right, and her daughter Lynda Lightsey of Hattiesburg.
He married his main squeeze Ann Moore, a home economics teacher, almost 50 years ago, with whom they had two girls Amanda Lewis of Dallas, and Alison of Starkville. He taught them to fish, to select a quality hammer, to love nature, and to just be thankful. He took great pride in stocking their tool boxes. One of his regrets was not seeing his girl, Hillary Clinton, elected President.
He had a life-long love affair with deviled eggs, Lane cakes, boiled peanuts, Vienna (VI-e-na) sausages on saltines, his homemade canned fig preserves, pork chops, turnip greens, and buttermilk served in martini glasses garnished with cornbread.
He excelled at growing camellias, rebuilding houses after hurricanes, rocking, eradicating mole crickets from his front yard, composting pine needles, living within his means, outsmarting squirrels, never losing a game of competitive sickness, and reading any history book he could get his hands on. He loved to use his oversized "old man" remote control, which thankfully survived Hurricane Katrina, to flip between watching ‘The Barefoot Contessa’ and anything on The History Channel.
He took extreme pride in his two grandchildren, Harper Lewis (8) and William Stamps Lewis (6) of Dallas for whom he would crow like a rooster on their phone calls. As a former government and sociology professor for Gulf Coast Community College, Harry was thoroughly interested in politics and religion and enjoyed watching politicians act like preachers and preachers act like politicians.
He was fond of saying a phrase he coined "I am not running for political office or trying to get married" when he was "speaking the truth." He also took pride in his service during the Korean conflict, serving the rank of corporal – “just like Napolean,” as he would say.
Harry took fashion cues from no one. His signature every-day look was all his: a plain pocketed T-shirt designed by the fashion house Fruit of the Loom, his black-label elastic waist shorts worn above the navel and sold exclusively at the Sam's on Highway 49, and a pair of old school Wallabees (who can even remember where he got those?) that were always paired with a grass-stained MSU baseball cap.
Harry traveled extensively. He only stayed in the finest quality AAA-rated campgrounds, his favorite being Indian Creek outside Cherokee, North Carolina. He always spent the extra money to upgrade to a creek view for his tent. Many years later he purchased a used pop-up camper for his family to travel in style, which spoiled his daughters for life.
He despised phonies, his 1969 Volvo (which he also loved), know-it-all Yankees, Southerners who used the words "veranda" and "porte cochere" to put on airs, eating grape leaves, Law and Order (all franchises), cats, and Martha Stewart. In reverse order.
He particularly hated Day Light Saving Time, which he referred to as The Devil's Time. It is not lost on his family that he died the very day that he would have had to spring his clock forward. This can only be viewed as his final protest.
Because of his irrational fear that his family would throw him a golf-themed funeral despite his hatred for the sport, his family will hold a private, family only service free of any type of "theme." Visitation will be held at Bradford-O'Keefe Funeral Home, 15th Street, Gulfport on Monday, March 11, 2013 from 6-8 p.m.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that you make a donation to Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College (Jeff Davis Campus) for their library. Harry retired as Dean there and was very proud of his friends and the faculty. He taught thousands and thousands of Mississippians during his life. The family would also like to thank the Gulfport Railroad Center dialysis staff who took great care of him and his caretaker Jameka Stribling.
Finally, the family asks that in honor of Harry that you write your Congressman and ask for the repeal of Day Light Saving Time. Harry wanted everyone to get back on the Lord's Time.
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Isn’t that absolutely divine!