A life marked by community service and charitable giving came to an end last Saturday.
Eldon “Red” Ladner, longtime Stone County Sheriff and jack-of-all-trades, passed away at the age of 91.
Born in 1928 to Orvis and Hattie Davis Ladner and raised in southern Stone County in what was referred to as Ladner Town, Ladner lost his father at 7-years-old and shortly thereafter became a source of support to his mother and five siblings.
“His first job was working for Dees’ Funeral Home, embalming bodies and driving the hearse,” said his daughter, Regina Ladner Davenport. “He was so squeamish he hated to even clean a fish, but he did whatever was necessary.”
He also served in the United States Marine Corps, worked as a logger, sold cars and went to Hinds College to get a degree in barbering.
“He worked for a time at Keesler Air Force Base and claimed to have cut Elvis Presley’s hair,” his daughter said.
He eventually married Esta Lea King and the couple remained together for 52 years until her death.
The experience of growing up in want of many things endowed Ladner with a caring and giving nature.
Residents throughout the county could probably tell stories of help they received from him with no expectation of repayment.
One of those is current Stone County Sheriff Mike Farmer.
“When I was little, my daddy was a logger and he wrecked his truck,” Farmer said. “He went up and saw Red, because he used to log, too. He let my daddy run an an old 190 International he had and he run it until he made enough money to get another truck and I went with him to take Red’s truck back and he tried to pay him and Red wouldn’t take a penny.
“He was a fine fellow.”
Farmer also credits wisdom imparted by Ladner with his own longevity in office.
“He told me to avoid political rallies and the media,” he said. “He said if you don’t get up and talk, they won’t know you’re an idiot.”
Regina Davenport said Farmer’s tale of her father’s largesse was very typical.
“Everybody came first,” she said. “People would stay at the house, runaways, people down on their luck.
“He had been as broke as anybody could be and he knew what that was like.”
Having been that broke gave Ladner an appreciation for things many simply take for granted, like shoes and clothes.
A son-in-law, Buddy Davenport, told of Ladner’s first new shoes.
“The first shoes he ever had that weren’t hand-me-downs,” he said. “He said he put them on and ran backwards in the dirt so he could see his footprints.”
Many, many pairs of shoes would follow.
“Oh, he’d line them up in the living room and he kept them all shined,” Regina Davenport said. “He was forever polishing and buffing those shoes.
“And I’ve never known a man to have as many clothes as he had.”
Ladner served six terms as sheriff, with a break when he lost an election to Woodrow Hickman.
He came back and defeated Hickman to return to the office.
At the time, being the sheriff was more than a job, it was a lifestyle choice.
“When you were the sheriff and you only had one deputy, there was no time off,” Regina Davenport said. “And, his offices and the jail were so small, everything carried over to our house.”
Which could be embarrassing.
“I can remember coming home on the school bus and, right there in our front yard was a copper tank with a coil of tubing coming out of it and, of course, I knew that was a whiskey still and so did everybody else on that bus.
“I just thought, ‘Oh, Lord, let this bus just keep on going and not even stop. But, of course, it did stop and I was just mortified.”
There are innumerable stories in the archives of the Enterprise detailing Ladner’s destruction of stills and burning of marijuana plants, but, more than anything, Davenport is sure her father will be remembered for his giving nature.
“Red Ladner would do anything for anybody,” she said.