TUPELO • Ernest Potter sat in a rocking chair at his home Tuesday morning, cherishing the nice weather on a special day.
Ellen Brumley, his younger daughter, had to remind him not to stay there too long.
“I told him, ‘Daddy, you’re going to be all worn out if you don’t get in and rest,’” Brumley said.
Potter went back in to rest. When he stepped out of his house again about 4:30 p.m., he was ready to celebrate a milestone.
Potter turned 100 Tuesday. Three younger generations of his family gathered in the yard of his Bryan Street home near Thomas Street School to commemorate the occasion with the man they lovingly call “Pappy.”
From his rocking chair in the driveway, Potter watched for an hour as a parade of vehicles passed in front of his home. The autos were filled with friends honking their horns, waving American flags and displaying signs that read “We love you, Mr. Ernest” and “Happy Birthday Pappy.”
Posted in Potter’s front yard were signs declaring his birthday and encouraging riders passing by to honk. In his carport, at least 150 birthday cards were attached to strings hanging from the ceiling. There were tables filled with photos of Potter, along with refreshments and gifts.
The Tupelo Police Department also paid tribute to Potter with eight TPD vehicles with lights and sirens on driving in single file past his home.
Potter smiled each time a vehicle drove by to acknowledge his special day.
“It feels good,” he said. “I’ve been penned up in the house for a while, so I wanted to get out.”
Potter and his late wife, Mary, moved to Tupelo from Little Rock, Arkansas, in the mid-1990s after he retired from the Arkansas Highway Department. They wanted to live closer to their two daughters and their families. Mary Potter passed away in 2016, a month shy of the Potters’ 75th wedding anniversary.
Brumley, a former Tupelo resident, now lives in Columbus but stays with her dad every two weeks. A couple of blocks away is his older daughter, Alice Starling.
The parade, Brumley said, was an alternative to a planned birthday gathering that had to scrapped due to COVID-19 concerns.
Potter is grateful for the friends he’s made in Tupelo, and many showed up for the birthday parade.
“A lot of these people are real close friends I’ve had,” he said during a break in the parade. “We’ve got a lot of good friends here in the neighborhood and at church (West Main Church of Christ). I’ve had quite a few visitors from out of town.”
Potter served in World War II as an air traffic controller for the Allied troops in Europe. He shipped out for Italy on Sept. 5, 1944 – the day Starling was born. When he saw her for the first time, she was 18 months old.
One of Potter’s favorite recollections of the war was meeting boxing legend Joe Louis, who fought exhibition matches to raise money for the war effort and eventually enlisted in the Army.
“He signed a telegram I received,” Potter said. “I still got it.”
One person who rode in the parade was Ottis Brandon, a fellow veteran and Potter’s walking buddy at the Midtown Pointe mall. Potter rose from his rocking chair and walked to the road to enjoy a brief chat with his friend, who was celebrating his 93rd birthday Tuesday.
Potter said the regular walks may have contributed to his long life.
“I’ve walked a lot,” he said. “I enjoy it. I try to walk every day.”
Before the vehicle Brandon was riding in pulled away, Brandon shouted something that Potter was unable to hear. Starling heard it and happily repeated it to her father.
“Ottis said he hopes you hit 200,” she said, which made her father smile.