A look back on 2021, a year of loss and change


The year 2021 evokes what Dickens wrote 163 years ago in Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”


Northeast Mississippi was rocked New Year’s day, 2021, by the disappearance, perhaps the demise, of a not-well-known young woman named Jessica Stacks, age 28.

The year ended with the death of a beloved, gorgeous woman named Betty White, age 99, in her own words a “lucky old broad.” We find nothing to indicate Betty White was ever in Mississippi. However, her presence during 70 years on our television screens here and throughout America treated all of us to a buoyant and charming life. Her death, just 17 days short of her 100th birthday, was announced in California New Year’s Eve.

In between the first and last days of 2021, the dominant topic here and around the world was the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.

As of this New Year’s Day, 847,000 Americans have died of COVID, more than twice as many Americans as died in World War II (405,399). Mississippi has the highest rate of deaths per million population of all 50 states. Several factors have made us number one in this dismal category: a public health system that has been neglected and underfunded for decades; poor leadership from the governor; too many Mississippians not vaccinated against COVID.

Alabama is in second place in COVID deaths per million residents and for the same reasons.

Municipal elections were held in most Mississippi towns this year. In Tupelo, businessman Todd Jordan was elected mayor, succeeding attorney Jason Shelton, who served two terms and did not run for re-election. Janet Gaston and Rosie Jones were newly elected as members of the Tupelo City Council. Former FBI Agent John Quaka was appointed as Tupelo’s new chief of police.

In New Albany Tim Kent was re-elected as mayor. Kent has thus been elected for five consecutive terms, a record unprecedented in modern times. Parks Smith and Drew Horn were elected to their first terms on the New Albany Board of Aldermen. Both replaced incumbents who did seek re-election.

Jessica Stacks was lost to us one year ago today.

Back briefly to the story that drew the most readers to NEMiss.News: Jessica Stacks was said to have gotten into a small boat with a male companion on the flooded Tallahatchie River New Year’s day morning. Her male companion, Jerry Wayne Baggett, told authorities that Stacks asked to get out of the boat onto the northern bank of the river after the boat had been in the water only a short while. Baggett said Stacks was going to try to walk through the flooded river bottom to Highway 30, about a mile away.

She was not reported missing until late New Year’s Day night.

State and local public safety workers made an exhaustive search for Stacks using state-of-the-art electronic equipment, helicopters, cadaver dogs, spending literally thousands of man hours trying to find Stacks. They found a coat Stacks was said to have been wearing but little else in the way of useful evidence.

The story of the disappearance of Jessica Stacks has attracted hundreds of thousands of readers from around the United States, Europe and Asia.

Public safety officials received dozens of “tips” about where her body might be. It was a major topic on Facebook and social media. But none of the tips produced any usable evidence.

Psychics and other amateur detectives had countless theories about her disappearance.

Union County Sheriff Jimmy Edwards told NEMiss.News New Year’s Eve that his office received information during the last month claiming that Stacks’s body was in a deep cistern/well in the western part of Union County. Authorities searched the well with underwater cameras with no results. Then they pumped all the water out of the 30-foot-deep cistern and still found nothing to indicate her body had ever been in the well.

Betty White had a happier life and died after 80 years as one of America’s favorite entertainers. She was an early star of television in the 1950s, playing characters that were sometimes described as “sickening sweet.”

When she was past 70 years of age, she “re-made” herself as a sexy, naughty “old broad” and achieved success that far exceeded that of her earlier career. She once said her secret to a long life was vodka and hot dogs. Her smile will always be something to recall on days when we are blue.

On a happy note, on this New Year’s Day, The Ole Miss Rebels will play Baylor University’s Bears in the Sugar Bowl.

Steve Patterson, our good friend and one of the best writers we know, sent us these two original sentences New Year’s Eve morning:

“And now we mark a new year filled with hopes and dreams and wonder and things that have never been! Happy New Year!!


–        J. W. Shiverdecker



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