When Hattiesburg’s Robin Wentworth took his last breath on the morning of June 13, the Pine Belt lost one of its favorite adopted sons.
Just eight short months earlier, he had been diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease, and doctors were clear that his health would soon decline.
Refusing to give up, Wentworth continued to live his life to the fullest – making the most of his time left.
Less than two weeks before he died, he attended Signature Magazine’s “Best of the Pine Belt Awards Show,” where he was among this year’s inductees into the Best of the Pine Belt Hall of Fame.
He walked slowly with the assistance of two bedazzled canes, but with a smile spread wide on face. He knew his days were numbered. It would be his last hurrah, a magical night out with 500 of his closest friends celebrating the best and brightest of this area he had come to love so much.
One of his last wishes was for his friends and family to gather for a final celebration after his death.
They gathered to make good on that wish at Tom White’s Front Street Bar on Sunday, June 17 – the day following his memorial service at University Baptist and his burial in Eddiceton (pronounced Etta Ce Ton), the small unincorporated community in southeastern Mississippi, where he was raised.
Robin didn’t actually make his way to the Hattiesburg area until the late 1980s when he came to Southern Miss to earn a PhD in Industrial/Organizational Psychology.
But it didn’t take long for him to fall in love with the Pine Belt and despite stints teaching at the University of South Alabama and working at a handful of corporate jobs, he always found his way back home to the Hub City – which he permanently called home for the last 20 years.
Billed as “A Celebration of the life of Sir Robin Wentworth,” the event included everything the honoree would have loved the most – food, friends, family, laughter, music, and some libations thrown in for good measure.
Despite normally being closed for business on Sundays, Tom and his crew at Front Street – including Ellen Keever and Tom’s daughter, Ella – threw open the doors in a heartbeat to honor one of their favorite – and most loyal – patrons.
The afternoon had the feel of an old-school church social or family reunion with a touch of jook joint spontaneity thrown in for good measure.
Robin would have loved it. He would have been right in the middle of it all with his famous selfie stick snapping photos of everyone who walked in the door, while also making sure everyone else was enjoying themselves right along with him.
Because for Robin, there wasn’t ever a moment when he wasn’t aware of everyone else in the room.
Somehow – even long before he was diagnosed with ALS, he was already keenly aware of his mortality.
He lived his life to the fullest and while everyone else sat back and admired the adventures he went on, he would not have considered those adventures to be his greatest accomplishments.
Those were his family. His friends.
And those people were the people that came out in droves to honor him.
Robin’s two daughters, Brittany and Alex were there – as were several other members of Robin’s immediate family including brother, Steve; uncle and aunt, Lynn and Patti Wentworth; aunt, Sara Adams; cousin, Robin Hammack; and cousin, Vince Woodcock, and Vince’s daughters, Dana and Lee Anna.
And then there were his friends.
It would be fruitless (and impossible) to try to name everyone who was there either in person or in spirit, but the number topped more than 150 and included, among others, Lanna Wakeland, who served as Robin’s primary caregiver in recent months.
Tom cooked up a big pot of homemade jambalaya for sharing and people brought side dishes, desserts, and fried chicken just like the traditional potluck suppers at church Robin enjoyed as a child.
A bevy of local musicians lined up to perform 30-minute acoustic sets throughout the day including several of Robin’s favorite songwriters – Thomas Jackson, Ben Steadman, Scott Chism and Lynsey Terry, Kyle Baughman, John Mark, Tyler Tisdale, Mark Mann, Royal Horses (Shelby Kemp, Kenny Paul Mann, and Daniel Firth), and Cary Hudson.
In pure bohemian fashion, the musicians sat in on one another’s sets and teamed up to play some of Robin’s favorite cover songs along with their own original tunes.
While the music played, local artist Noah Hollis completed an original painting of a robin, which was later auctioned off with proceeds earmarked for Abigail Allen’s work with the Hattiesburg Arts Council’s smART Space program. An exceptionally-generous bid from local chiropractor Chris Puckett capped off the effort.
It was an afternoon for the ages – Pine Belt style. People laughed. They cried. They hugged one another and they swapped their favorite stories about their friend, colleague, and confidant.
Robin’s parting gift was his lasting reminder that despite what life might throw at you, there is always more work to be done.
“You just have to do the best you can,” he often said. “All you need is love. And love is all you need.”
David Gustafson is the editor/publisher of Signature Magazine. And he has more work to do.
Managing Editor Beth Bunch also contributed to this piece.