I am an Elk - Meet Billy Stockman
Passions come in many variations; sometimes, you find your passion later in life. For Billy Stockman, that passion was the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks – and once he found it, he did not waste time getting to work, even before taking the obligation.
Billy Malcolm Stockman is originally from Bay Springs, Mississippi a town of 1,600 about twenty-five miles north of Laurel, in Jasper County. His parents, Hassell and Imogene (Dickens) Stockman relocated the family to the Mississippi Gulf Coast moving to Pascagoula when Billy was about six. The sixth of nine children, Billy jokes that Bay Springs was getting too small for all the siblings. Hassell went to work at Ingalls Shipyard while Imogene worked in the dry-cleaning business and later in childcare.
Billy attended Eastlawn Elementary, later graduating from Pascagoula High School in 1962 under the ever-watchful eye of Coach Seay. He tried playing football in school but says that he was so small all his friends on the team would just pick him up and move him out of the way. Billy says there was not much remarkable about his childhood; it was rather normal. He did not participate in youth organizations, instead working nights and weekends for Wayne Lee’s Grocery and Market, where Stockman says that Wayne Lee was a great man to work for.
Soon, Stockman would follow his father into the shipyard as an electrician. He had taken vocational courses in high school and eventually earned his card through the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union 733. Three years later, he would join the United States Marine Corps, attending basic training at Paris Island. When talking about his time in the Marines, he says devilishly, “What did I do in the Marines? I tried to get out!” He would spend eight years in the US Marines Reserves based in Gulfport, Mississippi as a rifleman preparing for combat and learning survival skills. “I done a little bit of everything that they told me to do.” What the US Marines also offered Billy was training with technical skills that would prove useful on the job as an electrician.
Stockman’s brother, Bobby was drafted and received orders for a tour in Vietnam. Billy applied to take his brother’s place. “I had the training and was prepared. [Bobby] didn’t have any of that,” Billy said. However, the military would see it differently and deny his application since Billy had married Linda Duran and the couple had a two-year-old son, Todd. Thankfully, Bobby made it back alive but changed.
Billy would be honorably discharged in March 1970, as a Lance Corporal. As for whether he liked being in the Marines or not, Stockman’s patriotism does not fail him today, even though his memory may. “If I got called back now, I would go serve my country.” There was no devilish look with that statement, but a look of sincere pride.
Billy met his wife of fifty-six years when Linda was in junior high school. Billy had known her sister and thought Linda too young for him, but Linda had not forgotten him. However, fate always steps in. Linda’s parents owned Jay’s Drive Inn on Market Street in Pascagoula. Usually, Linda’s mother would not let she and her sisters sit in the restaurant because the drive-in sold beer. But one evening there was a hamburger sale - one for twenty-five cents each - and in came Billy to order some, along with a few Goebel beers. For whatever reason, Linda’s mother did not object to the girls eating in the dining room with the customers that evening, and Billy saw Linda. A few days later he called, asking her out for a date. Linda agreed, but only if it were a double date.
The day of the date came, and Billy arrived with his friend Robert Breland and Linda’s friend Christine Sellers. Linda smiles as she recalled the encounter, “I felt immediately better about the date.” They went for pizza at the now long-gone Sinopolis Pizza, and the foursome later went to the movies at the Ritz Theater in downtown Pascagoula. They would be married in 1965.
Billy continued to work at the shipyard and did a few odd jobs here and there, whatever interested him. He did not participate in social or fraternal organizations and had few hobbies at the time. But one day, he drove up to the house he and Linda shared in an MG badly in need of repair. “He was sitting on a gumbo pot because it didn’t have any seats,” Linda laughs, “I wanted a car, not a gumbo pot.” Billy worked on the car, finishing out the repairs, including rebuilding the teakwood dash himself. He would later discover that the car had once belonged to former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and he sold it when a decent offer was made on the vehicle.
Margaret Thatcher puts her purse in the trunk of the MG that Billy later owned.
Stockman left the shipyard for a position in the Electrical Department at Chevron USA Pascagoula Refinery. “[It] was an awful [he pauses for comedic effect] nice place to work. They left you alone to do your job.” He would also work as an inspector for Chevron before retiring after a thirty-one-year career there.
In 1991, the Stockmans moved north of Pascagoula into a home on the Pascagoula River in the Escatawpa community. The house has a waterfront on the main river where Billy says, “I have caught many a fish out there,” emphasizing, “You can get tired of fishing.” And while he may have tired of fishing, in 1991 he started raising soft-shelled crabs in a “Crab shack” by the river. “I didn’t sell them. We ate plenty and gave away the rest.” Linda was involved with the hobby too, developing a secret stuffed crab recipe that many hoped she would turn into a business, but she did not want to sell them.
More importantly in 1991, Billy’s friend Elvin “Smitty” Smith would invite him to attend several functions at the Pascagoula Elks Lodge 1120. Billy attended three or four events and found himself attracted to the Order. Smitty would sponsor Stockman, and even before Billy could be initiated, he was already volunteering for everything that he could, including working a crawfish boil at the Lodge. “He told me I would make a good Elk.” He stops and looks thoughtful, “I hope I proved him right.”
Linda says that the Elks transformed Billy. He immediately threw himself into all parts of the Lodge. He worked on every committee the Lodge offers. “Anywhere I was needed,” he says, “I loved every minute of it.” Within the Pascagoula Lodge 1120, Stockman was Loyal Knight and Leading Knight before being elected to Exalted Ruler for three terms – from 2004 through 2007. Afterward, he took on the role of Kitchen Chair for five years and with his committee including five or six ladies impressed a Grand Exalted Ruler Paul Hesel at the 2008 State Convention held at the Pascagoula Lodge.
“With the help of so many, we were able to accomplish so much in our community.” Stockman stresses the terms “We” and “Lodge” as he talked about the many events and activities of his cherished Lodge, refusing to acknowledge his accomplishments, preferring to credit the group effort of the Lodge members instead.
He took his roles as Knight and Exalted Ruler seriously. “They called me the little emperor,” alluding to both his short stature and his insistence on following the constitution, rules, and by-laws of BPOE and Pascagoula Lodge 1120. “When they would try to do something they shouldn’t,” referring to those who wished to bypass the proper procedures, “I would tell them no.” He also found the Order’s rituals especially important to the process of initiation, memorizing every part of the ritual but that of the Esteemed Lecturing Knight. In fact, he skipped serving in that chair because he felt like he could not do the part well enough for initiations. He competed on the Lodge’s Ritual Team and was part of it when they won the yearly competition. “I said the ritual to [Linda], the door, and to the crabs in the crab shack until I got it perfect.”
Billy is an Elk to his inner core. He mentions the camaraderie he felt with the organization, not just locally, but nationally as well. “In my life as an Elk, I have made some of the greatest friends a man can have.” He continued to serve the Elks after his terms as Exalted Ruler as Mississippi Elks Association State South Vice-President, State President, State 5 Year Trustee, served on the State Major Projects Committee (Kids Camp), and in his favorite position, District Deputy Grand Exalted Ruler.
Billy has been named Elk Month, Elk of the Year, and was named to the Mississippi Elks Hall of Fame in 2023. However, his most prized Elk accomplishment is having received the Charlie Duffie Award. “I had the honor of knowing Mr. Charlie. And when his name is mentioned, tears come to your eyes. He was a true Elk.” In 2015 tragedy struck the Stockmans as their home burned while Billy and Linda were preparing to travel to the Elks National Convention in St. Louis, Missouri. No one was injured, but the house was badly damaged, and the award was lost to the fire. Special Deputy Grand Exalted Ruler Mike Gordon and others were able to get the plaque replaced.
Billy is now approaching eighty years old, and after an hour of talking, it is obvious that he struggles with most memories. But any mention of the Elks brings a light to his eyes that shows his intense love for the organization and his memories of his time with his beloved Order come out clearly. Because of his health, he is unable to participate often at the Lodge. He apologizes for not being able to volunteer anymore for the organization that he loves so much. He has a message for his fellow Elks not only at his home Lodge but all Elks everywhere, “I’m sorry I have not been able the last three years to have the health to be with you, but my heart and prayers are with each of you. No award you get makes the man or woman [in the Elks], it’s the person you become in life. Elks Care, Elks Share.”
While Linda did join the Pascagoula Elks 1120 Ladies Auxiliary, she did not do so for several years after Billy joined, preferring to see her husband grow and thrive as an Elk. Billy and Linda continue to live in their rebuilt home in Escatawpa with their son, Todd (Maria) living close by. They have three grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Oh, and Billy? You absolutely proved Smitty right.