Carroll Virginia Mitchell, née Breland, arrived in Caesar, MS on January 3, 1943 and departed this life in Slidell, LA on October 12, 2020—77 years, 9 months, and 9 days on the roller coaster we call life. She was not just a rider, she sat in the front seat through peaks of joy and valleys of heartache while pioneering marriage, motherhood, and career in Hancock County from the 1960s until just the other day.
NanaGin lived in Bay St. Louis, MS. She contracted the Coronavirus and gracefully battled it even as it quickly became clear that the disease would win. Within hours of her death, she mastered a Zoom video call and held court in her ICU room for her next of kin. She had a message to deliver, “I’ve had a good life; celebrate it, and have no sorrow.”
Virginia, Gin, Mom, Momma, Nana and other names of endearment—she left on her terms albeit with God’s Grace. She was greeted in Heaven by her beautiful daughter, the late Whitney Faith Johnston, who charted her own course to Heaven in 1982. For those who knew Whitney and Virginia, you know the heartache that Mom endured through the loss of her child. Indeed, it affected everyone mentioned in this obituary and many more, and it required Virginia’s strength, courage, and fierce belief in God to continue.
Paraphrasing William Faulkner, NanaGin “believed that a woman would not merely endure, she would prevail. She is immortal, not because she alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because she has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.”
Without question, Momma had an inexhaustible voice and a soul and spirt that demonstrated compassion, sacrifice and endurance. Look in the dictionary for the definition of “sacrifice” and you will see her picture, along with those of her sister and brothers who also sacrificed to keep our family moving forward. In her parting moments, the grandchildren thanked her for her love and many sacrifices, testifying to Nana’s positive impact on their lives.
Born to the late Joseph B. “Jake” Breland and Vivian Vera Breland, née Lee, Gin was the second of four children—although Jake later blessed her family with many stepsiblings.
As a child, Virginia always seemed to plan for inflation and seemed to know that candy bars would shrink in size while going up in price. She would accompany her mother and siblings to the corner store where Vera would give each a nickel, but Virginia always asked for a quarter.
She graduated Bay High School in 1961, where she excelled in both academics and sports, especially basketball. After a brief stint as a local beauty queen, she next excelled at accounting and bookkeeping while working at Moore & Powell, CPAs, PA. After that, she worked with companies like Diamond Corporation, which developed the City of Diamondhead. Later, she worked in the accounting department at Western Sizzlin and retired after working with the late H. S. “Duffy” Stanley, a Department of Justice Bankruptcy Trustee. Of all her employers, Duffy was the “Man” because he helped her aspiring son, Kenneth, get his first lawyer position with the esteemed Robert Alan Byrd and the late Nicholas Van Wiser at the Byrd & Wiser law firm. While there, Kenneth learned the fine art of losing cases for family members to avoid getting hired by them again and eliminating the need for Nana to explain that her son had in fact earned a law license.
For much of her life, she invested heavily in Coca Cola and HarperCollins Publishers. No, not stocks or bonds—just bottles and books. Rarely did she not have either one in her hand, although later in life she opted for water. She continued reading throughout her life.
Virginia did not like getting left out. While some females of her time set out to champion Wall Street or politics, she opted for a more local impact particularly as a female trailblazer who enjoyed hunting and fishing and making inroads into the traditional male world of outdoor experiences. There was a time when the now-paved Texas Flat Road required mud tires to travel it. Many a hungry hunter, in the area still known as Devil’s Swamp, ate like royalty from the many spreads that Virginia served on Thanksgiving Day. But to be sure, she also carried a 16 Gauge Remington 1100 shotgun and a .243 Caliber Browning BLR rifle.
Virginia also loved to fish. She used fly rods and cane poles to catch perch, a spinning reel to catch speckled trout and the occasional croaker; and she preferred a barbed gig for frogs and flounders—opting for a hand net for soft crabs.
She did not like snakes, and her son still remembers the feel of the punch after he stupidly cried wolf about a snake while afield one day.
Gin was also a loving mother and grandmother, who, in “retirement,” moved to Dallas, Texas to support her son and two grandchildren after her daughter in law passed away in 2001. She relished the role of changing diapers and cooking meals as she became the rock for her 5 and 3-year-old grandboys. Nana later passed the baton to her new daughter in law, Jennifer Branson Johnston—who earned Mom’s seal of approval and then some.
After returning to Bay. St. Louis in 2006, she became very motivated by her love for God and love for her neighbors and became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. She actively provided service until her health slowed her down.
In addition to Jake, Vera Lee, and Whitney, Virginia was preceded in death by her husband, Kire C. Mitchell, estranged husband, Huey Paul Johnston, daughter in law, Leslie Mudd Johnston, and stepbrothers Joseph B. Breland, Jr. and Donald “Bubba” Breland.
Nana Gin is survived by her son, Kenneth Craig Johnston and his wife, Jennifer of Dallas, TX, as well as grandsons Aidan Alexander Mudd Johnston of Crested Butte, CO, Jackson Lee Johnston of Dallas, and Barrett Hamilton Johnston of Dallas. She is also survived by her step mother, Lois Graham of Carriere MS, siblings, Marjoe Gex and Charles Breland of Bay St. Louis; Freddie Breland of Waveland, MS; Theresa Breeland, Linda Walters, Jay Breland, and Donna Graham all of Carriere, MS, as well as a several branches of nieces and nephews.
Nana had a wonderful support structure around her; truly too many to list here, but know you are included. She is survived by two very special friends who helped her connect her daily dots, Carolyn Porter and Peggy Bailes, both of Bay St. Louis.
A private memorial service will be held through Zoom video on Thursday, October 22, 2020. At a future date, the family will hold an interment ceremony at Bayou Coco Cemetery in Hancock County, where Virginia’s ashes will be entombed with her daughter.
The Poet, Emily Dickinson, wrote much about death and dying. But—like NanaGin’s request that we celebrate her and have no sorrow—Dickinson also wrote about light despite darkness in her poem, “Hope” is the thing with feathers:
Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –