It’s been a year of incredible hardship – and Cathy Reed and her family in Ocean Springs, Miss., have had their share of it. As a family and hard-working team, they’re pulling through it together.
Cathy owns W.P. Shelton Jewelers, which was founded by her father, William Paul Shelton, in 1945. Cathy and her husband, Terry, bought the store in 1996. They ran a popular coastal jewelry store over the ensuing years, inspiring their daughter Dianne to join the family business. Their daughter Jessica is a bench jeweler as well.
This past February, life took a turn. Doctors found a tumor on the top of Terry’s lung, and later he started feeling sick.
“Terry never complained,” Cathy says. “Everybody liked Terry. He was a fun guy and a protector of the girls. He’d drive me and six or seven women over to Jazz Fest in New Orleans, drop us off and pick us up so many hours later. He was just a nice guy, a good guy. He always wore a fedora hat. Everybody called him Big Poppa. He got up every morning to make me happy, to take care of what I needed. If I said you need to walk 700 miles, he would get up and start walking. Terry loved music. Rock ’n’ Bowl in New Orleans, we went all of those places.” He also loved surfing, reading the classics, good conversation and Jim Beam.
“In February, after they found the tumor, we still went to Mardi Gras. We went as dead rockers – I was Jimi Hendrix, Terry went as Tom Petty, and a friend went as Janis Joplin. We were in a quieter area of the French Quarter, more on the local side.
“A week and a half later, we were going to MD Anderson.”
Gulf Coast Connections
As World War II began, Cathy’s parents were living in Texas. Her father signed up for the civil service and was offered a position in Mobile, Ala., where he was trained to repair instrument panels. Cathy’s mother, Mary, also joined the civil service.
The couple lived in Mobile during the war, about 60 miles from Biloxi. “When the war was winding down, a friend said, ‘There’s a jewelry store in Biloxi – let’s go in together and buy it,’” Cathy says. “So the two of them bought the store. When they parted ways later, my dad stayed in Biloxi.” The family moved the store to nearby Ocean Springs in 1972.
Cathy met Terry – who had finished his tour of duty in Vietnam and was hitchhiking around the country with an Army friend from Biloxi. When Terry dropped into Biloxi with his friend, he met Cathy and never left. The couple married in 1975.
“My father trained him in jewelry repair, clock repair and casting,” Cathy says. “We all worked together. In 1986, we bought the store from Dad. Dad worked up until he was 90 years old, not in the store all of the time, but from home. He’d plan the night before for the next day – he was a very positive person.”
Daughter Dianne eventually started working at W.P. Shelton, “doing all the behind-the-scenes things – waiting on customers, doing estimates, book work, planning,” Cathy says. “Terry had quit coming in so much a year or so ago. We had bought a tiny condo – a pied-à-terre – in New Orleans, 90 minutes away, and I was taking more time off, too. The condo is close to the Superdome – we’ve been season ticket holders for the Saints for 20 years and just loved that, and we loved the live music there.”
After the trip to New Orleans in February, Terry was waiting for an oncology appointment. “One morning he got up and said, ‘I have to go to the hospital,’” Cathy says. “And he wanted to go to M.D. Anderson in Houston. They admitted him and said he was a great candidate for radiation and immunotherapy. He was very healthy – doing yard work, helping with the grandkids. But he never got better. He just got sicker and sicker.” Terry had to be intubated, and Cathy had to leave the hospital because of COVID-19 regulations.
Dianne meanwhile, was back in Mississippi running the store while caring for her children, ages 11 and 8. An employee walked out because of COVID fears. “We thought, ‘What are we supposed to do here?’” Cathy says, “We knew nothing about the virus at that time. And then the schools shut down, and Dianne’s husband was working the night shift. And there was a business to run. It really got to be a lot, and I was 400 miles away. Thankfully, we had two employees who were so good to help.”
Thankfully, too, Terry had a brother and sister living in Houston, so Cathy never had to stay in a hotel. “I am such an optimist. I was like, it will all be great. I thought everything would be OK.”
However, with Terry on a ventilator and Cathy barred from entering the hospital because of COVID, the experience was heart-wrenching.
“Dianne and Jessica started calling MD Anderson over and over, talking to everybody they could. On April 3, Dianne called me and said I could go into the hospital on a 24-hour pass. I went in, and I stayed. I did not leave. The girls had fought and fought to get me back in that hospital.”
When doctors said they couldn’t do anything for her husband, Cathy hired an ambulance to bring her husband home to Mississippi after 33 days in the hospital. “I think he must have been affected by COVID,” she says.
Cathy was still optimistic it would all be good – “that we’d be sleeping at night, cooking healthy meals. But it wasn’t good at all. The hospice nurse had come, and he passed away on April 14. It was just me and the girls here.”
All this, while still trying to run the family jewelry store. “I’d say 98 percent of our customers have been understanding,” Cathy says.
In early June, the store opened back up Thursday through Saturday. “Now we’ve extended it to Wednesday through Saturday. It’s all I can handle now; we’re so busy and it’s just me and Dianne and our employee Celeste. Another full-time employee had foot surgery but will be coming back to help.
“Just like every jewelry store, we’re constantly wiping, cleaning pieces with the UV box and using the UV wand to clean cases. It’s been a change in lifestyle for everyone.”
Last summer, in June, Terry bought 3 acres of land to make his own driving range. “It was a lot of work, and he hired helpers,” Cathy remembers. “He’d come home covered in sweat. Then in July, we bought an office building – really a house – next door, and in the meantime he was planning a surprise 70th birthday party for me. We made plans to turn it into an Airbnb. We were getting started on it when we found out he had a tumor. Our daughters took that over and worked with the contractors.
“Ocean Springs is a nice little town, an artsy type with people driving golf carts. We’ll keep working at the store and running the Airbnb. That’s what you do, get up and go. The name of the Airbnb will be Ocean Springs A-Go-Go.
“People thought we’d be having celebrations for our 75th year,” Cathy adds. “Sometimes I’m gung-ho – the last of October, we’ll have a celebration, our annual storewide sale. We’ll have giveaways, and we’ll honor Terry at that time, maybe with an open house – even if we have to do it under a tent!”
For more information about W.P. Shelton Jewelers, call 228-875-4842 or visit www.wpsheltonjewelers.com.