Chester Huron “Chet” Gardner passed away peacefully, in his sleep, in the early morning hours on Friday, May 1, 2020 at the young age of 80. He left this earth surrounded by his most favorite people in all the world, his children, while listening to Willie Nelson and Ray Charles sing a duet. In typical Chet fashion, he called us all in to let us know his plan; then procrastinated for a week until he decided he was fully ready to commit to his departure. He will be incredibly missed.
Although he was a mere 5’10”, he was the biggest and baddest welterweight champ any of us ever knew right to the very end. You may remember him as “Whitey” Gardner from his rearing in his beloved home town of Union, Mississippi. This namesake came from him having the most beautiful, cotton-white, blonde hair. Many knew Whitey from his championship boxing days he was so very proud to speak about to anyone willing, and not willing, to listen to his stories. While his boxing days may have been during his time served in the US Navy, then followed by the Golden Gloves, well into Whitey’s 70’s he could “still whip somebody’s ass if he needed to”…and he did once. Okay, maybe.
After proudly serving his country, Dad earned 3 degrees...his bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate, ABD. He used his education to help others obtain their own goals of earning a degree. Job well done, Dad.
Chet was most definitely one of a kind, although he had numerous names through the years. Mr. Gardner is what he was called by the countless students he assisted as Director of Student Financial Aid during his years at USM, UMMC and lastly JDCC. He was “Gramps” to his grandchildren and great-grandchildren he loved dearly. His nieces may have called him Uncle Shet a time or ten…because it sounded like Uncle Chet; but what were they REALLY saying?? His large (and proudly dysFUNctional) family also called him Poppa Smurf and Chester Cheeto just to get a grand chuckle from his always smiling face. Then there was “Gus”. Oh, sweet Gus. Chet looked so much like Mr. Duvall he was given the loving nickname Gus, from Lonesome Dove, in his later years. We sure are going to miss ‘ole Gus.
We must say, if you were lucky enough to grow up with Whitey Gardner as a father, well…you’re lucky enough. Gone are the days of receiving his many words of wisdom, his famous ‘Chet quotes’, his always perfectly perfect, fatherly advice, and his many boxing stories; however, everything Gus will surely never be forgotten. He was Patsy Cline’s and Louis L’Amour’s No. 1 fan. He taught us to sing ‘Crazy’ like no-one’s listening, and whom you could (and could not) ride the river with. (Obviously he would be very upset we ended that sentence in a preposition.) He was the king of family vacations at the beach, loyal viewer of The Price is Right in the mornings and Wheel of Fortune in the evenings, self-proclaimed master crappie fisherman, Mr. Live Debt-Free, a man’s word is his bond/make a deal on a handshake, if they don’t love you at your worst—they don’t deserve you at your best, BEST kind of Dad.
Gone are the annual family beach trips to Gulf Shores he forced us to plan for a year and enjoy for a week; undoubtedly, we made enough memories there to laugh about for a lifetime. We sure are going to miss you, Dad.
Chet’s favorite thing in life was spending time with his family; most certainly meaning his whole BIG family. This included several members that weren’t blood kin; for he loved them like they were one of us. His other favorite things included correcting everyone’s grammar, philosophizing, chips and salsa with a frozen margarita at his favorite Mexican restaurants and, lastly but definitely not least, cold beer and dry roasted peanuts on good porch or around a warm fire.
Chet leaves behind 4 children, 12 grandchildren, 7 great-grandchildren, 1 brother, 2 sisters, a myriad of nieces and nephews, several brown paper bags of leftover tortilla chips, a frozen burrito from 1997, and a plethora of empty Miller Lite and soda cans he’s saving for someone to recycle one day. Then there is also that one jar of watermelon rind preserves dated 1985 that has since aged to a nice shade of black. He considered it a prized possession merely because his mother had made those with her precious hands and it still bore her penmanship. You see, Dad valued the simple things in life; considering those closest to him among his most cherished belongings.
His four phenomenal children are Kim Gardner Aust (Jim) of Hattiesburg, MS (his favorite, according to her), Alison Gardner McGowen (Randy) of Hattiesburg, MS (his favorite, according to her), Karen Gardner Prine (she lives with her dogs) of Covington, LA (his favorite, according to her), and Troy Gardner (Emily) of Hattiesburg, MS (he came along last and ruined it for the girls). His brother is Charles “Uncle Charlie” Gardner of Union, MS, and his sisters are Ruth “Aunt Root” Gardner White of Brandon, MS, and Margaret Gardner Ely of California.
Chet was preceded in death by his parents, Huron and Lorene Gardner “Papaw and Mamaw;” his brother, James Gardner “Uncle James;” and his sister, Freda Gardner Smith “Aunt Freda” all of Union, MS.
Following Chet’s wishes, he was cremated and his remains were divided amongst his 4 children to sit and watch over them, and their grammar, for all of their days. Due to the dreaded pandemic, that would have driven him beyond the point of “pissed off”, a private family (and those he claimed as family) Celebration of Life will be held in lieu of a service at a later date.
Hulett-Winstead Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.
Dad… “Goodnight, sweet dreams, we love you, we’ll see you in the morning, sweet dreams!”