Family, friends, and residents are mourning the loss of the mayor of Wiggins this week.
The city announced Mayor Joel Miles died late Sunday, Dec. 13, after battling COVID-19 for several weeks.
“It is with profound sadness that we announce that Mayor Joel Miles has passed away,” the City wrote. “We appreciate your prayers. Please continue to pray for the family and the City. We will miss him.”
A lifelong Stone County resident, Miles was elected mayor in 2013.
Miles tested positive and was treated for the virus in mid-November.
WLOX interviewed him after being treated with monoclonal antibodies, which are lab-made proteins that target the COVID-19 causing pathogens.
The antibody therapy is similar to the treatment President Trump received in October.About a week after treatment, Miles told WLOX that his feverish temperatures were cooling, and the treatment had kept him out of the hospital.
Unfortunately, Miles’ symptoms worsened in the following days.
He was hospitalized on Nov. 30 and remained at George Regional Hospital in Lucedale for the next two weeks.
On Dec. 12, Miles had to be airlifted to Memorial Hospital at Gulfport for further care.
“George Regional informed us that they had exhausted all of their resources and he needed to be moved immediately,” Miles’ wife, Mary wrote.
In the wake of his death, his wife is pleading for people to avoid the worst.
“If one person hears what I am saying, this post will be worth it,” Miles’ wife Mary posted on Facebook on Saturday. “When this COVID journey began for us, Joel told me that whatever he might face, for us to be as transparent as we can with everybody. Joel was adamant about wearing his mask. He felt he needed to do everything he could to protect people.”
Throughout the pandemic, Mayor Miles and the Board of Aldermen have been supportive of city-wide COVID-19 precautions, even when residents balked.
“He faced many people every day that felt it unnecessary to wear (a mask),” Mary Miles wrote. “As he was trying to protect others, not everyone did their part to protect him.”
Mary Miles said she had learned the hard way that COVID is no hoax.
“I would not want ANYONE to be in my shoes right now. I only say these things to try to help someone else. I beg you, PLEASE, wear the mask,” she said.
The mayor’s death has left fellow elected officials and community leaders grief-stricken.
Stone County Economic Development Partnership’s Executive Director Betsy Rowell was stunned at the news of his death.
“We talked frequently about what Wiggins might look like in five years, ten years, and how best to reach those goals,” Rowell said.
Rowell and Miles spoke while he in quarantine and during his hospitalization up until about a week ago.
Even from a hospital room, Miles stayed up to date on important developments in the community and expressed concern about how COVID-19 cases could rise from holiday activities.
Rowell said he was looking ahead to a more normal year in 2021.
“I believe he will be with us in spirit as we see some results of his ideas come to fruition,” Rowell said.
The Mayor was on the personnel committee when Rowell was hired for her position at the EDP.
Over the years, Rowell worked closely with Mayor Miles and his son, Jody Miles, who currently serves as the EDP Board President.
Rowell said she enjoyed working with Miles even when they opposed each other at times.
Disagreements never kept Miles from seeing the bigger picture and putting the future of Wiggins first.
“Neither ever doubted the other’s passion for the potential of this place we both call home,” Rowell said.
Ward One Alderman and Mayor Pro-Temp Darryl Berry said Miles was a humble, honest person who valued other people’s opinions.
“We always had a good relationship,” Berry said. “We could disagree and still smile and get along, and that was the end.”
Berry said Miles was regarded as a calm, easy-going businessman when he was elected to Board of Aldermen in 2009.
When Miles was elected mayor the following term, Berry said the new mayor proved to be a very effective leader.
Miles kept an open door policy. Any person could stop by with concerns or ideas and could expect to be heard.
Berry said he will miss Miles as a friend and colleague.
“He was very good for the city... Everybody loved him,” Berry said. “We’re losing somebody that was very special.”
Wiggins Police Chief Jeff Thomas said Miles’ death “is a tremendous loss to the city and to stone county overall it is an even bigger loss to his family.
“He will be missed dearly.”