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John Leon Suarez

Born in Biloxi in 1901, Leon Suarez was one of the six children of Anthony Joseph Suarez and Dona Agnes Penton.

In Leon’s own words, he “spent the summers of [his] boyhood going barefooted, swimming, pole fishing and “cooning” oysters down by the railroad bridge, and [his] favorite thing—fighting.” In the winters, he would attend school, hunt squirrels and rabbits, play hookie and get in more fights. At the age of 15, he decided he was “smart enough” and left school to begin a job on an oyster barge called the WILD TURKEY. Under the tutelage of the Polish captain, Moduk, Leon began his life on the sea.

Always eager to find the fun in life, young Leon would row his skiff to Dauphin Island for a night of dancing, something he admitted to loving as much as fighting. In that time, Deer Island was home to an amusement center that attracted other ‘fun-seekers’ from as far as New Orleans, and treated them to a large dance pavilion, a skating rink, and a place for vaudeville shows and pier that was a favorite for bathing beauties.

At the age of 19, Leon married Agnes Fayard, four years his junior. Although they were very much in love, they divorced two years later. Leon later married Edna Donnelly of the Bayou Caddie area and raised two children. In 1947, when Leon and Agnes found themselves both widowed, they reunited and remained happily together.

Leon truly believed the life of a boatman was the best life ever. Waking to the sunrise and the smell of coffee and bacon on a charcoal grill, with the sound of hundreds of seagulls begging for a handout was among his favorite memories. The life was hard, but he knew it would ‘make a man of you’ as you worked hard, ate plenty and laughed a lot. He enjoyed the deep rest that was the result of a day’s work hauling in a good catch, when every muscle and bone was “dog tired”.

Even into his eighty-seventh year, he was still working alongside his brother, Louis, in his seafood business, cleaning fish and shucking oysters. He would recount the harrowing stories of his fishing days including when his various boats were hit by a tornado and capsized, struck by lightning and split in two, caught on fire from the lighting of a stove, and another completely frozen over by a ten day “nor’wester”.

He would tell of the days when Biloxi was the Seafood Capital of the World, before shrimping was “mechanized”, and the work was hard, but the harvests were bountiful. He would share the tales of his and Agnes’s work on their smaller boat in the most frigid of temperatures well into their seventies.

Leon and his brother were always very close, working on the same boats and sharing the hardships and dangers and some mighty good times. With the sea and the boats in their blood, they would tell and retell their memories. As Leon was fond of saying, “Age can slow a body down, but memories keep you going.”


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