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Everybody should do their best

 

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Mary Spinks Thigpen, 67, has long been a passionate advocate for her neighborhood, Forest Heights, in north Gulfport. Even though her own house had lost its roof in the storm, she insisted that her neighbors’ homes be fixed first.

   

Mary Spinks Thigpen has long been a passionate advocate for her neighborhood, Forest Heights in north Gulfport, Mississippi, where she has lived since 1972.

The historic community—one of the first homeownership developments for low-income families—was slammed by Hurricane Katrina, and many of the residents weren’t able to afford proper repairs.

After Thigpen’s tireless lobbying, Habitat for Humanity’s 2008 Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project included the rehabilitation of 30 houses in Forest Heights. Even though her own house had lost its roof in the storm, she insisted that her neighbors’ homes should be fixed first.

Having accomplished that, Thigpen went through the process of qualifying for a Habitat house for herself. This summer, she moved into a brand-new house built on the slab of her demolished one, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

“I am used to helping others,” said Thigpen. “I am not used to being helped.”

Thigpen, 67, carries herself like a queen, even though recent knee replacement surgery requires her to walk a little slower now and use a cane. She is dressed in a crisp brown and gold pantsuit that matches her hair, with matching accessories and sensible shoes for the construction site.

“I represent my parents, my children, my God and this community,” she said. “We still have a couple of houses that stand in need.”

She never stops advocating. The pace of hurricane recovery has drained her occasionally, she conceded. But any despair is short-lived.

“Only for a minute, I’ll cry and I’ll scream, but always inside my house,” she said. “And I pray a whole lot.

“I believe everybody should do their best,” she added. “But not everybody is equipped to do their best. I just work at it, wherever I am. I work at helping people do their best, and being a man or woman of your word.”

For 18 years, Thigpen has conducted free ACT workshops for local students who want to go to college. The proud grandchild of a freed slave, she also serves as president of a sickle-cell volunteer group in Harrison County and is a member of an environmental action committee to clean up properties around Gulfport.

“When you die and they put you in the grave, you should be empty,” she said. “You should give all you can of what your education gave you and what life gave you to teach and help others.

“Things haven’t always come out like I thought they should or would,” she added. “But they always come out.”