by Pat Saik
Anybody with a question about the history of Hancock County needs to call Eddie Coleman, who mans the Hancock County Historical Society three days a week. A good teller of tales, especially about local history, Eddie probably knows the answer you may be looking for or else knows where to find one.
With a wicked sparkle in his eye, he boldly adds, “and if we don’t know the answer, we’ll make one up.” He’s kidding, of course. Right?
Eddie has lived all his life in Mississippi. He grew-up in Jackson County, smack dab in the middle of forty acres. Although he was born in Meridian, Mississippi, his family moved to Jackson County when his father, a history teacher, was offered a job to teach there.
Eddie not only followed in his father’s footsteps; many of his family members on his father’s side also chose teaching as a profession. Eddie taught at St. Martin’s High School in North Biloxi for thirty years after earning a degree at the University of South Mississippi in Hattiesburg. But unlike his father, he chose to teach English grammar and American and English literature. He proudly announced that his eleventh graders would have read and discussed at least four of Shakespeare’s dramas, no easy feat but an achievement that may enrich one for a lifetime.
To be a good teacher, Eddie believes “you have to have high expectations for your students. I taught them that ‘you never fail until you stop trying.’” He always emphasized that “you never know what you can do, until you do it.”
The last 18 years of his tenure at St. Martin’s, he served as chairman of the Department of Language Arts. “We had a good core of teachers,” Eddie recalls. “Everybody helped everyone else. “ Of course, Mississippi is not known for richly compensating its teachers. Teacher pay was so low that after the teachers paid rent and transportation, “if you had anything left over you bought groceries.”
Never mind the low salary. Eddie maintains that “teaching is in my DNA.” And so it seems. Even after his retirement from teaching at St. Martin’s in 2000, he taught as an adjunct professor for Gulf Coast Community College for eight more years, from 2003 to 2011. Just a year before he returned to teaching, he had moved to Waveland, after having lived in Ocean Springs for 32 years.
Given his Scottish and Irish lineage, with Welch and English mixed in, it isn’t surprising that Eddie loves a coastline. Even after Hurricane Katrina wrought severe damage to his Waveland home, Eddie says he “never questioned leaving.” The fact is, Eddie asserts, “I need to have sand between my toes.”
For fun, Eddie has performed in several musicals with the Biloxi Little Theatre, including Chorus Line, Funny Girl, Hair, Camelot and Best Little Whorehouse. He loves to dance though he alleges he cannot sing.
Since working at the Hancock County Historical Society, Eddie has learned a lot about Hancock County. He serves as the Editor of The Historian of Hancock County, a monthly publication containing articles of historical interest related to Hancock County and information about upcoming events at Lobrano House, a place of historical interest in its own right that serves as the Society’s headquarters.
“Many people visit here from all over the world,” Eddie says, who enjoys greeting guests who stop in to ask questions or to do research using the interesting books and records and photographs housed at Lobrano House.
“One thing unique about Bay St. Louis. You never know whom you’re going to meet.” So stop by the Lobrano House one day. After all, you never know whom you may meet.