by Pat Saik
A firecracker has moved into a house on Sycamore Street. Mary-Miles Coe Higgins Walker is her name. Full of life and full of stories, she shines as she recounts tales of her long life. She celebrated her ninety-second birthday this summer and gives no hint of slowing down.
“There are so many projects I want to finish before I leave this world,” she announces.
A newcomer, Mary-Miles moved to Bay Saint Louis from Baton Rouge about two years ago, at the encouragement of her son, Skip Higgins, who also calls Bay Saint Louis home.
Mary-Miles is no stranger to Bay Saint Louis. In the 1930s, she partied here as a teenager, when high school sorority sisters visited en masse and spent summer weekends in a rented rambling beach-house. The crowds of boys that came over to visit often just slept in their cars, she recalls.
“I was just boy crazy,” she happily confesses. Everyone had fun going to dance parties at night and fishing, flirting, crabbing and swimming during the day. An athlete, she was a citywide baseball champ and loved beating the boys in basketball shots.
Enthusiastic and fearless, at thirteen she decided to enter a beauty contest in Bay Saint Louis held by “Uncle Charlie’s Nite Club.” Nearly fifty local businesses, from Mauffray’s Store to Benedetto’s Grocery to Piazza Brothers Barber Shop to Merchants Insurance Agency, were represented by teenaged bathing beauties bearing a banner across the chest announcing the business the contestant represented.
Mary-Miles proudly wore the banner for Sellier’s Beer Parlor. Having decided to enter the contest without telling her parents, her mother “threw a hissy fit” when she learned what Mary-Miles had done. The only thing that helped just a bit came about because in listing the names of the contestants the local newspaper misidentified her. Instead of “Mary-Miles” she was identified as “Mary Alice” Coe.
“But boy, oh boy! Was that a fun time! It was almost worth how angry Momma was at me when she found out what I had done.”
Mary-Miles was born to Albert Miles Coe and Blanche Marie Landry Coe on June 17, 1921 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Her father, an attorney, moved the family to New Orleans when Mary-Miles was three years old. She and her two older sisters, Carol and Lea, were raised in New Orleans; Mary-Miles, however, preferred Baton Rouge, where she often spent her weekends.
When Mary-Miles was thirteen, her parents introduced her to Roland Higgins, the fourth born son of Andrew Jackson Higgins. Mr. Higgins and his boat company, Higgins Industries, were clients of Mary-Miles’ father. Mr. Higgins played a critical role in World War II, when Higgins Industries produced assault craft (the LCVP - click here to read more!) effective in the war effort. President Eisenhower it is said credited Andrew J. Higgins as “the man who won the war for us.”
Mary-Miles may be the only person who may rightfully claim that she once played a rendition of “chopsticks” with Harry Truman. At the time, then Senator Truman was the guest of honor at a dinner party the Higgins’ hosted for him when Truman visited New Orleans to inspect the boat manufacturing operation at Higgins Industries. A piano player himself, Truman invited Mary-Miles to join him at the piano.
From her thirteenth to her twenty-first year, Mary-Miles dated many a young man, including Roland Higgins. She married Roland at age twenty-one and during a 23-year marriage raised five children, “Skip,” Kathy, Danny, Mary-Miles and Carol Lea. Eight grandchildren and nineteen great-grandchildren later, Mary-Miles is a happy woman.
When Mary-Miles talks about her children, she says she really had six children, the last being a toy Poodle she named Mimi, after the little French girl in Mary-Miles’ favorite opera, La Boheme. Although Mary-Miles swore she would not be one of those people who dressed up their pets, it wasn’t long before Mary-Miles had to eat her words.
Mary-Miles knows how to sew, a skill she learned from watching her mother, Blanche Landry. Her mother was so talented she could produce an evening gown without a pattern just from looking at a picture. As a child, Mary-Miles delighted in designing and making clothes for her paper dolls and planned her own fashion business to be named “Styles by Myles.” No surprise that she couldn’t help but design and make outfits for Mimi. With over 100 different ensembles, Mimi had an outfit for any occasion.
Mimi became a star, loving to travel with Mary-Miles to big cities across the United States, showing off her outfits to many fans, from children to seniors. Mary-Miles has written two books about Mimi. In “Hello World” she tells the story of how Mimi came to live with her. In “All Dressed Up” Mimi shows off a costume for every month, all lovingly made by Mary-Miles.
But the marvelous Mary-Mile and her son, Skip, aren't the only Higgins to fall in love with Bay St. Louis - one of Mary-Miles daughters, Kathy, also now lives in town, while a second daughter, who bears her mother’s name, is planning a move here soon. Another son, Danny, loves to visit. Now that Mary-Miles has moved to Bay Saint Louis, she plans on staying for awhile.
“I like the easy living here,” she says with a smile.