Family, friends, and former colleagues of late Waveland Mayor Tommy Longo on Thursday attended the Trees, Seeds, & Me community event to honor his efforts to "rebuild Waveland after Hurricane Katrina."
The ceremony and ribbon cutting was held at Gex Park on Coleman Avenue which will now be home to several live oak trees, planters, and two 10x10 ft. pergolas. Raised bed gardens will also be constructed to encourage residents and organizations to grow their own vegetables or plant flowers.
The volunteer efforts are coordinated by Planet in Action and include the Gulfport Navy Seabees, the Gulfport Home Depot, local Knights of Columbus, city officials, friends, and family of Mayor Longo. Local sponsors include the Silver Slipper Casino and Hotel, Waste Pro, and Chiquita Fresh North America LLC.
"Mayor Longo's devotion to rebuilding the Waveland-Bay St. Louis area after Hurricane Katrina was unforgettable. He inspired confidence in recovery efforts and understand the importance of building community spirit to help get things done," Troy-Bilt brand manager Barbara Roueche said. "We were honored to work with the mayor on several projects between 2007-2010 and to be involved today with this beautification project."
Another pergola will be constructed at Our Lady of the Gulf Catholic Church in Bay St. Louis. Holy Trinity Catholic School's fourth-grade students will receive seed packets and educational materials related to environmental stewardship.
Waveland Mayor Mike Smith spoke about Longo's service to Waveland.
"Tommy in all his years here was one of the best mayors Waveland ever had because he cared about us as employees," Smith said.
Smith said past employees could attest to the love that Longo had not only for the city of Waveland, but also the employees.
"He always took care of the employees," Smith said. "So Tommy is the one who encouraged me to be like I am."
"Tommy was a great man," he said. "We look at Coleman Avenue, we look at the fire station, city hall, the police station, and the infrastructure after Katrina. Guess who got that money? Tommy. Tommy got that money. All that we have that is built and accomplished was all due to Tommy. He was a great grant administrator. He went out and looked for grants and that's how he was so successful."
Bay St. Louis native, broadcast journalist, and former CNN correspondent Kathleen Koch also spoke about Longo.
"Once you met Tommy, you were his friend," she said. "He had a huge heart. He always put others first. He always had time for you, sometimes too much time, because y'all know you never had a short conversation with Tommy Longo."
Koch spoke about Longo's role in the non-profit LeadersLink, which was founded by Koch.
According to leaderslink.org, "When Superstorm Sandy struck the East Coast, Koch recognized how much mayors on the Jersey Shore needed the advice of Gulf Coast mayors who were now disaster pros. She began linking them up and the partnerships made a significant difference in the communities' recoveries. Koch realized then the value of a powerful network drawing on leaders' firsthand knowledge."
Koch said that Longo traveled to town affected by Hurricane Harvey in Texas and spoke to mayors.
"He made such a difference because he was able to inspire them, to give them hope that their towns would recover like ours," Koch said.
Koch said she thought it was "good and fitting" to honor Longo's legacy with the live Oak trees, pergolas, and raised bed gardens which "will remind everyone who comes here about Tommy's service and his commitment to our community."
Koch said that the "greatest monument" to Longo is Waveland.
"The city that in 2005, after Hurricane Katrina, USA Today, remember on the front page said had vanished," Koch said. "It's alive and well. And I think this city exists today largely because of Tommy Longo. It's a lasting testament to his hard work, his determination and his undying love for this place."
Tommy Longo's brother, Ted thanked everyone involved with the project.
"The best you can hope for when it's over when you served in the public is that somebody says that was a good person," Longo said. "When you're in politics, when you're an elected official, you get in situations that aren't always easy. And yet at the end of the day, you just hope people remember you as a good person. And the fact that we're here today and for all the people that made this happen. On behalf of all the Longos, we thank you."