HENRY BRAXTON MCNEESE JR.
Henry passed away peacefully at home in the early hours of February 6, 2020, surrounded by loved ones.
Henry was born September 4, 1931 to parents Henry B. McNeese and Georgia Belle West McNeese. As the second of four children, Henry spent his childhood years in El Paso, TX. Those early years were a difficult time for his family, both financially and with frequent conflict. So difficult that his mother moved the family back to her hometown of Camden when Henry was age 16. The first evening his family moved back, as they gathered for a celebration dinner his grandmother had prepared, young Henry gazed at the spread before him and asked, “Where are the beans?” At this point his mother burst into tears.
Those early trials and years of working the family farm instilled a resilience and work ethic that Henry maintained throughout his life. I recall always thinking that his back muscles were made of steel every time I hugged him. Henry met Jean Ella Worthey in high school in Goodman and they married in 1953. Having joined the Navy in 1951, Henry became a pilot and rose to the rank of Commander. He piloted P2V5J Neptunes on anti-submarine missions, as well as the famed Hurricane Hunter missions. After resigning his post as an active pilot, Henry and Jean Ella returned to Pickens to continue raising their young family. All told, Henry and Jean Ella raised five children, Hank, Bill, Gaye, Walt, and Chris, 10 grandchildren, and 11 great grandchildren. He was a stable presence in the lives of his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. Henry made his living as a funeral director/undertaker, an insurance salesman, and a U.S. Postal mail carrier. Henry’s presence, leadership, and service in the town of Pickens has left an enduring mark. He held many cherished titles including: Scout Master, Town Counsel attendee, Election Commissioner, Volunteer Cooperative Observer for the National Weather Service, Sunday school teacher, and Ruling Elder at Pickens Presbyterian Church.
His children knew him as “Daddy,” his grandchildren as, “Gran” and “Dee”. All who knew him, knew him as a friend. Henry was a story keeper and a storyteller. He possessed the ability to welcome you into any conversation as if you had been there all along, and as if you knew all of the names of family ancestors and towns he was referencing as well as he did. Quick with a joke or a witty (and inappropriate) comment, he did so with an honest and genuine spirit that never meant ill. Beneath his warmth was a fierce fearlessness born out of his tough early years and a life of hard work. His heart was made tender by the grace and humility given by Jesus. Henry earnestly prayed, “Forgive me for my sins.” He knew of his brokenness and put his hope in the Blood of Jesus. He always remembered his loved ones in his prayers, and his loved ones will remember him in our hearts.
Henry is preceded in death by his parents, sister (Carol), and his son (Bill). He is survived by his wife Jean Ella; children, Hank, Gaye (Ronnie) Graham, Walt (Charlotte), and Chris (Brenda); daughter-in-law Julie; grandchildren, Taylor and Hayden (Hank), Anna, Emily and Will (Bill), Stephanie and Sarah (Gaye), Melody, Lauren and Colton (Walt); great grandchildren: Riley (Taylor), Caroline and Luke (Anna), Xander, Ezra, and Juniper (Will), Ellie (Emily), Lily Grace and Olivia (Melody), Madelyn and Isabella (Lauren); brothers, John and George; sister-in-law Becky Leverette (Jesse); and loving nieces, nephews, cousins, and friends…and his faithful dog, Katie.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to French Camp Academy, One Fine Place, French Camp, MS 39745.