Miss-Lou mourns death of store owner Hal Garner

Published 5:22 pm Thursday, May 24, 2007

Friends and business associates were stunned by the sudden death Wednesday morning of Natchez businessman H. Hal Garner, whose antiques and gift shop has been a mainstay on Franklin Street since 1983.

Garner, 66, died at his Vidalia home, Taconey, a historic house he had restored during in recent years.

Known for his skill in restoration and interior design, Garner was associated with the salvaging of more than 35 houses in the Natchez area, including large mansions such as Gloucester, The Wigwam and Brandon Hall, among others.

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As a decorator, he traveled internationally as far as England and Kazakhstan to work for clients. In the United States, he designed interiors for houses in Colorado, Florida, Alabama, Texas and other states in addition to numerous Natchez area houses and businesses.

“He’s been such a big part of so many lives,” said Mattie Jo Ratcliffe, one of his closest friends who also worked in Garner’s shop part time for many years.

“He was really a brilliant man, but he never purported to be brilliant,” she said.

Larry Holder, owner of Wilson Holder Drugs, located a few doors east of H. Hal Garner Antiques, said Garner’s shop was important to all of the Franklin Street merchants.

“He was a wonderful neighbor and the anchor in this part of town,” Holder said. “I think of the generations of people he has helped.”

Holder’s wife, Annette, said she had known Garner most of her life.

“The first time I met Hal he was working for Mr. Allen, ” she said, referring to the late W.W. Allen of Allen Furniture Co., where Garner worked as an interior designer.

Like others who remembered Garner Wednesday, she thought of the many lives he had touched.

“I don’t know one longtime Natchez family that hasn’t been touched by him in some way, maybe through their gardens, colors in their houses or upholstering their furniture. People have relied on him for years,” Annette Holder said.

“And he was a leader in preservation. He and his partner, Dr. (Harold) Hawkins, restored so many houses.”

Ethan Robb remembers those houses well, as he helped Garner to move into them and out of them during the 29 years he worked for the business.

“I was in high school when I started working for him,” Robb said. “Some of those houses we went into and out of two or three times. I really enjoyed it.”

Kate Foley, who had worked alongside Garner as an interior designer since the spring of 2005, admired her mentor’s generosity and creativity.

“He made what you had work for you,” she said. Instead of looking for ways to sell clients items from the shop, he made the client’s belongings work better by new room arrangements.

Foley said she has benefited from the two years with Garner. “He was so giving. I always had a list of questions for him. He’s given me more than I could ever have expected.”

Beverly Jenkins, another shop employee, said she remembers Garner for his hospitality to strangers.

“He loved to make people feel comfortable. Having people come into the shop was like inviting them into his home,” he said.

He offered customers coffee, soft drinks and lemonade. “And he served them from silver trays,” Jenkins said.

Ratcliffe said she heard Garner many times ask tourists about where they were staying, where they were dining and even offering to make reservations for them.

“The world is not going to be as much fun without Hal,” Ratcliffe said.

Laird Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements, which were incomplete late Wednesday.