Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Sid Salter: Opal Austin, “Mama O” to many, finally reunited with beloved WWII hero husband

 The death of Mrs. Opal Wilkes Austin on Saturday at age 99 was not unexpected and represented for her and those who loved her somewhat of a relief.


“Miss Opal” lived a big life. Her circle in life was wide, encompassing, and inclusive. As a small-town physician’s wife and nurse, she brought to her life and work a great deal of compassion and generosity of spirit.


From her home literally in the middle of Forest, Mississippi, “Miss Opal” operated a one-woman Welcome Wagon for newcomers, visitors, revival preachers, and anyone who she deemed worthy of a home-cooked meal and her conversation. She possessed an innate curiosity and the ability to converse with anyone at length.


She and her husband, whom she called “Dr. Bill,” were exceptionally well-matched. They loved each other. The doctor was decidedly a man of very few words and “Miss Opal” was a lady who loved a good and lengthy talk. As they aged, he would make vain, half-hearted attempts to “shush” her and then absently shake his head.


Jesse William “Bill” Austin Sr. earned his undergraduate degree from Mississippi State College in 1938 and would go on to earn his medical degree from Tulane Medical School in 1942, shortly before entering the U.S. Army for service in World War II. He was a battalion surgeon in the U.S. 3rd Army in the European Theater, where he served in five major battles from the Normandy invasion until VE-Day–including harrowing combat service during the Battle of the Bulge.


Austin earned the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and the Purple Heart. After his distinguished military service, he returned to Forest to practice medicine with his father, Dr. R.B. Austin. During his long 39-year medical practice in Scott County, Austin delivered over 3,500 babies and most of them were born outside of a hospital setting.


“Miss Opal” was his registered nurse for many of those simple rural births and all the other small-town, middle of the night missions of medical mercy back when doctors made house calls or patients literally showed up on their doorstep pounding on the door for help.


“Dr. Bill” died on Feb. 12, 2001, at the age of 84. The Austins had five children, daughters Sue Thigpen and Judy Webb and sons Dr. Jesse William “Ace” Austin Jr., Richard Austin, and Terry Austin. There are 14 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren.


After Dr. Austin’s death, “Miss Opal” moved to Starkville in 2002 to be nearer family. As she had in Forest, she became an integral part of her new community and church. As long as she was physically able, she continued to cook and entertain at her kitchen table. Starkville residents knew her as “Mama O” and she was loved and admired here as she had been in Forest.


But inevitably with advancing age, “Miss Opal” began to face challenges and heartaches. First came the death of son Richard and years later the death of daughter Sue. She endured macular degeneration, which limited her ability to see well enough to cook. In increments, her memories began to fade. Her life became smaller and quieter.


Joys still found her. In May 2018, grandson Jesse William Austin III became the third generation of the Austin line to graduate from Mississippi State University–80 years after his grandfather and 50 years after his father. He continued the Austin family tradition of service to mankind as a student in the University of Mississippi Medical Center School of Dentistry.


Some 40 years ago, “Miss Opal” invited me to her Forest home for a wonderful meal and fellowship that made a new town feel like home. Her friendship was steadfast and true. Through good times and bad, she was always there. 


I choose not to grieve over her death, for I began to grieve the moment her big and loud life began to get small and quiet. I rejoice that she is finally reunited with Dr. Bill (shushes and all) and her other loved ones there – and know she impatiently awaits the arrival of the rest of us.


“Mama O” told writer Emily Jones in 2011 the creed that sustained her for almost a century: “I don’t dwell on yesterday, or tomorrow for that matter. I just wake up every morning expecting something good to happen.”


Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at


Anonymous said...

People like the Austin is what makes Mississippi great. Whether one likes Sid, he does have a way of remembering the people who truly make up the fabric of Mississippi hospitality and sense of family.

Much better read this morning than Shapiro.

Anonymous said...

God Bless both of them who are now together in Heaven. RIP Ms Mama O.

Anonymous said...

Well stated 9:44.

Anonymous said...

They made the world a better place. RIP.

Anonymous said...

Great story, and especially mind-cleansing after reading the KF news about the Jackson garbage continuing saga.

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Trollfest '09

Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

Wrestling returns, except this time it will be a Battle Royal with Othor Cain, Ben Allen, Kim Wade, Haley Fisackerly, Alan Lange, and “Big Cat” Donna Ladd all in the ring at the same time. The Battle Royal will be in a steel cage, no time limit, no referee, and the losers must leave town. Marshand Crisler will be the honorary referee (as it gives him a title without actually having to do anything).

Meet KIM Waaaaaade at the Entergy Tent. For five pesos, Kim will sell you a chance to win a deed to a crack house on Ridgeway Street stuffed in the Howard Industries pinata. Don't worry if the pinata is beaten to shreds, as Mr. Wade has Jose, Emmanuel, and Carlos, all illegal immigrants, available as replacements for the it. Upon leaving the Entergy tent, fig leaves will be available in case Entergy literally takes everything you have as part of its Trollfest ticket price adjustment charge.

Donna Ladd of The Jackson Free Press will give several classes on learning how to write. Smearing, writing without factchecking, and reporting only one side of a story will be covered. A donation to pay their taxes will be accepted and she will be signing copies of their former federal tax liens. Ms. Ladd will give a dramatic reading of her two award-winning essays (They received The Jackson Free Press "Best Of" awards.) "Why everything is always about me" and "Why I cover murders better than anyone else in Jackson".

In the spirit of helping those who are less fortunate, Trollfest '09 adopts a cause for which a portion of the proceeds and donations will be donated: Keeping Frank Melton in his home. The “Keep Frank Melton From Being Homeless” booth will sell chances for five dollars to pin the tail on the jackass. John Reeves has graciously volunteered to be the jackass for this honorable excursion into saving Frank's ass. What's an ass between two friends after all? If Mr. Reeves is unable to um, perform, Speaker Billy McCoy has also volunteered as when the word “jackass” was mentioned he immediately ran as fast as he could to sign up.

In order to help clean up the legal profession, Adam Kilgore of the Mississippi Bar will be giving away free, round-trip plane tickets to the North Pole where they keep their bar complaint forms (which are NOT available online). If you don't want to go to the North Pole, you can enjoy Brant Brantley's (of the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance) free guided tours of the quicksand field over by High Street where all complaints against judges disappear. If for some reason you are unable to control yourself, never fear; Judge Houston Patton will operate his jail where no lawyers are needed or allowed as you just sit there for minutes... hours.... months...years until he decides he is tired of you sitting in his jail. Do not think Judge Patton is a bad judge however as he plans to serve free Mad Dog 20/20 to all inmates.

Trollfest '09 is a pet-friendly event as well. Feel free to bring your dog with you and do not worry if your pet gets hungry, as employees of the Jackson Zoo will be on hand to provide some of their animals as food when it gets to be feeding time for your little loved one.

Relax at the Fox News Tent. Since there are only three blonde reporters in Jackson (being blonde is a requirement for working at Fox News), Megan and Kathryn from WAPT and Wendy from WLBT will be on loan to Fox. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both and a torn-up Obama yard sign will entitle you to free drinks served by Megan, Wendy, and Kathryn. Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required. Just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '09 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

Note: Security provided by INS.

Trollfest '07

Jackson Jambalaya is the home of Trollfest '07. Catch this great event which promises to leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Sonjay Poontang and his band headline the night with a special steel cage, no time limit "loser must leave town" bout between Alan Lange and "Big Cat"Donna Ladd following afterwards. Kamikaze will perform his new song F*** Bush, he's still a _____. Did I mention there was no referee? Dr. Heddy Matthias and Lori Gregory will face off in the undercard dueling with dangling participles and other um, devices. Robbie Bell will perform Her two latest songs: My Best Friends are in the Media and Mama's, Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be George Bell. Sid Salter of The Clarion-Ledger will host "Pin the Tail on the Trial Lawyer", sponsored by State Farm.

There will be a hugging booth where in exchange for your young son, Frank Melton will give you a loooong hug. Trollfest will have a dunking booth where Muhammed the terrorist will curse you to Allah as you try to hit a target that will drop him into a vat of pig grease. However, in the true spirit of Separate But Equal, Don Imus and someone from NE Jackson will also sit in the dunking booth for an equal amount of time. Tom Head will give a reading for two hours on why he can't figure out who the hell he is. Cliff Cargill will give lessons with his .80 caliber desert eagle, using Frank Melton photos as targets. Tackleberry will be on hand for an autograph session. KIM Waaaaaade will be passing out free titles and deeds to crackhouses formerly owned by The Wood Street Players.

If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

Note: Security provided by INS