One of the community's most vibrant women reveals her secret for getting things done: Keep moving.
- story by Pat Saik, photos by Ellis Anderson
Paula’s multifaceted talents have been built over a number of years working in challenging jobs. She built an impressive resume in administration, public relations, sales and working with federal, state and local agencies.
As an ad rep for the Sea Coast Echo from 1978 to 1992, Paula got to personally know every business owner in town. When the gaming industry took root on the Mississippi Coast in the early 1990s, Casino Magic spotted Paula’s talents and promptly put her to work in marketing and publicity for their new casino in Bay St. Louis.
After a stint at Alcan Cable as an administrator, Paula accepted a job with the City of Bay St. Louis as Clerk of Council, a position she held some eight or nine years. After a short sabbatical after Hurricane Katrina, Paula returned to work with the city, working in all aspects of cultural affairs and community development.
A self-described “jack-of-all-trades,” her job has involved helping coordinate recovery efforts with FEMA and contractors to plan and implement rebuilding. She also worked with the Bay St. Louis Harbor Commission, helping them to develop policies and ordinances. Currently, she’s involved in joint efforts with MDOT to find safer routes for children walking to school.
Born and raised in one of the oldest settlement areas in Louisiana northwest of Baton Rouge, Paula dubs the small community of New Roads “Creole-talking country.” Named after a “new road” between the Mississippi River and the False River, the town itself was founded in 1822, when a free woman of color, Catherine Depau, subdivided a portion of her plantation there.
Until she was 12 years old, Paula and her family lived on a working farm. Her mother, Irma Johnson Lemay, and father, Joseph Lemay, raised seven children. Paula has four sisters and two brothers.
The family moved to Bay St. Louis in 1965, when her father began work with NASA at the Stennis Space Center. Paula has lived in the Bay ever since.
Paula is married to Nathaniel Fairconnetue, a lifelong resident of Bay St. Louis. A retired educator and administrator of the Harrison County School System, he is an active member of the NAACP and sings with the men’s ensemble choir at St. Rose de Lima Catholic church.
The Hancock County community has recognized the civic-minded couple with one of its highest honors. Each year the Hancock Chamber names ten people as Outstanding Citizens of the Year. In 2005, Nathaniel was one of those ten. Paula received the same honor in 2010.
The couple have three adult children, all of whom came to Bay St. Louis this year for Christmas. Two daughters, Natalie and Nadia, live in Atlanta; their son, Nathaniel Jr., resides in San Antonio, Texas. “We also have four grandsons,” Paula proudly proclaims.
Although she has worked with many organizations, Paula holds three of them near and dear to her heart.
“I’m a former member of the board of theBoys and Girls Club here in Bay St. Louis. That organization provides invaluable services for kids who need a place to go after school. We have a dedicated board of directors who strive constantly to bring in money to keep those programs going.”
Another organization that enjoys Paula’s talent for getting things done is the Hancock County Women’s Shelter for Nonviolence, which has an office and a safe house in the county.
“This organization provides a safe place to go if a woman and her children are in need, even in the middle of the night. It’s an invaluable resource in a county where domestic violence is far too prevalent. Tina Richardson and Sandra Morrison deserve a lot of credit for making all of this a reality.”
“I also serve as an officer in a community club called RETROFIT. We encourage kids to work in the community, helping others. We often work with seniors, who need a hand with home repairs or just running to the drugstore to get a prescription filled. There are a lot of good people in Bay St. Louis. All you have to do is ask.”
In addition, Paula has been an active member of St. Rose de Lima for 40 years, singing in the church’s tradition choir.
In managing her work life and active volunteer activities, Paula keeps her cool by playing tennis, her favorite sport. She plays league tennis in Pass Christian.
“We’re the Hot Shots,” Paula laughs. Somehow one has no doubt that the name accurately describes Paula and her teammates as both fun and formidable opponents.
In keeping with her active lifestyle, Paula also works out at the gym and belongs to the Bay City Rollers, a bicycle club. She and Nathaniel are both members of the group, which often tackles long-distance rides. Recently, she joined the club on a 19-mile round-trip expedition that went from the foot of Washington Street in the Bay to the Silver Slipper Casino at Bayou Cadet. Several other women “rookies” accepted the challenge, with each of them completing the entire route.
Paula is a devoted ambassador for Bay St. Louis. She counsels “taking time to look at what we have.”
“I am glad to be living here,” Paula says. “This is my home. I hope for Bay St. Louis that as we grow that we keep our small-town ambiance. That’s who we are. That’s what attracts people.”
“I love the way the town looks: the oak trees, the harbor, the beach. And I’m looking forward to town projects in the works. More bike paths and sidewalk projects are on the drawing board.”
And what about retirement from her city job? Although she doesn’t have any dates set, she says she’s looking forward to it eventually. The couple want to travel, especially to the Holy Land, where Paula wants to visit “all the places Jesus walked.”
In the meantime, she just keeps moving.
“I’m not a sedentary person,” she says. “Sometimes when I get home from work, Nathaniel will tease me and ask, ‘What meeting are you going to now?’ And once in a while, I’ll joke back and say, “Guess what? You’re going to have the pleasure of my company tonight!”