Bidding farewell to my hero

Published 8:00 pm Sunday, September 30, 2012

I lost my favorite person last weekend – my grandfather, Vance Means.

     Those of you who know me well know he was much more to me than just a grandfather, he was a father to me.

     He lived a long life. He was 90 years old when he drew his last breath. I was most fortunate to have shared nearly 49 of those years with him. Life is certainly going to be much different without him here.

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     I can only imagine how my grandmother, Rachel, feels. She shared her life with him for more than 66 years, as did my mother, Juda.

     One thing I know for certain is that I was just as special to him as he was to me. We didn’t have to say we loved each other often, I could always tell in the way that he looked at me with his big blue eyes and by the smile on his face.

     At 6 foot 4, he was a tall man. He was also a very handsome man, even when his dark hair started turning snowy white in his early 40s. He was strong and the rock of our family.     Pawpaw lived an extraordinary life during his 90 years.

     He joined the Army when he was a senior in high school. He was soon fighting in the Calvary for our country in World War II. Although he didn’t talk about his service much, I knew he fought in the war in some of its harshest conditions – in the jungles on the islands in the Pacific.

     I knew he was wounded three times while fighting in the war and received the Purple Heart. I didn’t know until I was putting items together for his final days and looked at his Army discharge papers that he had actually received several more medals. He was always a modest man.

     A representative from the Department of Veteran Affairs said my grandfather was a war hero. I thought he was probably just saying that because of his service in World War II, but he truly meant my grandfather was an actual war hero. He’d been my hero all my life.

     After the war, my grandfather made his way to Brookhaven from his home in Texas with the U.S. Geodetic Coast Survey. That was in 1946. The Coast Survey had actually moved their offices to Railroad Street in the Pearlhaven community, and only a few doors down from where my grandmother lived.

     To hear my grandmother tell the story, she and her friend, Catherine Pace (Dickey), were outside in Catherine’s yard, and two of the Survey fellows asked them out on dates. That’s how my grandparents met.

     Two weeks later, they were married at the Hazlehurst Courthouse with Catherine as one of the witnesses. That’s what I call a whirlwind romance.

     Until the early 1960s, they moved around the country with the Coast Survey, living out of a small trailer that could be pulled behind their vehicle. They lived in and visited many states during that time.

     With the Coast Survey, my grandfather helped perform triangulation surveys, which were used to map the topography of the United States. In the 1950s, he was also part of the Geological Survey that began evaluation of the effects of underground nuclear explosions at the Atomic Energy Commission’s Nevada Test Site. He saw a lot in his lifetime.

     Eventually, my grandparents retired to Mississippi and finally to Railroad Street in Pearlhaven, only two doors down from where they first met. They had come full circle.

     I’ve been living next door to my grandparents for the past 10 years. One of our favorite pastimes was going out to eat at lunch.

     After lunch, Pawpaw would always pull a dollar out of his wallet and hand it to me so I could buy a drink in the afternoon when I returned to work. Even though I was a grown adult with a job of my own, he always insisted on giving me those dollars. I called those my “Pawpaw dollars.” He was a generous man.

     In May 2011, he had a stroke that left him wheelchair bound and weak on his right side. It was hard to see the man who had always been the rock of our family be dependent on others for everyday needs. Even on the day of his stroke, he had been out paying bills and going to the grocery store. He was always self-reliant.

     Over the past year and a half, I watched him decline. I believe this was God’s way of preparing me for this past week.

     We said good-bye to my grandfather last Monday. The service was just what he would have wanted. It was how he lived his life: modest, simple and beautiful.

     I know Pawpaw is in a much better place, and that one day I’ll see him again.

     “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.” Psalm 23: 6.

     And how was your week?

     Lifestyles Editor Tammie Brewer can be reached at The DAILY LEADER at 601-833-6961 ext. 134, by email at or you can write to her at P.O. Box 551, Brookhaven MS 39602.