Focus on....Larry Randall
By the time Larry Randall was nine years old, his family had moved 37 times. When they finally settled in Pearlington, Mississippi, Larry was more than ready to put down roots.
He’s been here ever since.
He even stayed for Hurricane Camille, when it ripped through town six years later. Larry stayed, and even though Camille did not do nearly the damage to Pearlington that Katrina did, it was enough to convince a 15-year-old Larry that he would not be staying for the next big one.
So Larry rode out Katrina at the base of his former employer, Stennis Aerospace, from where he’d retired two years earlier, after a massive heart attack. He returned to town, with his wife Beth, to discover that he still had at least the shell of his house left, although there was an enormous amount of work to do to restore it. When, in early December, the Hancock County Emergency Operations Center was concerned about keeping the Pearl*Mart and the Recovery Center open, Larry and fellow resident Herb Ritchie stepped up to the plate.
The School Board agreed to allow the Chas. B. Murphy E.S. to continue to be used for that purpose. The school, named for a wealthy local landowner who had deeded the land to the School Board, was a familiar place to Larry. Like most residents his age, Larry had attended the school in his time, starting in Grade Six when the school opened. And, like most residents, Larry felt a keen attachment to the buildings and to its perception in the community as a central rallying point.
As a volunteer, Larry admits that when he took over as Manager, he had "no earthly clue" what he was getting into. Like all of us, he just knew that "a whole lotta stuff had to get done in a hurry." Those of us who have taken our turn at the job understand the constant stress under which Larry works daily and agree when Larry says, "but it can be very rewarding when we’re able to get something done."
Back home, when asked what’s going on in Pearlington at this point, I usually tell people that it is like "constructing a large subdivision - with no skilled labor, no resources or materials, and no time." Larry, Herb and Laurie Spaschak get to be the site managers of a nearly impossible job. I admit that I was deeply concerned about the EOC’s decision to put local residents in charge of the Pearl*Mart and the Recovery Center, only because I had just completed my own tenure there and I knew the pressure that could be applied on a daily basis.
In many ways, life is as much about perception as it is about reality. Larry has had to deal with perceptions - almost all of which are erroneous - while trying to apportion a handful of material and resources in a town where everybody needs something. I have watched Larry over the months since December do this Solomonic task wisely and cooperatively, while shouldering the inevitable criticisms and judgements made of him almost daily.
It’s never easy and it can hurt deeply. It changes you and requires you to be your very best every single day - especially on the days when your own loss and pain surface and you return to your "home" feeling beaten and bowed by the responsibility of it all.
But, Larry Randall persists. For him it’s simple:
"This is my town."