Former alderwoman Middleton’s life of service remembered

Published 12:01 am Thursday, December 31, 2015

NATCHEZ — A true Natchez matriarch never fades from the community’s memory.

Peggy Jean Wells Middleton, who died Monday, is remembered as a mother, grandmother, friend and public servant.

Her youngest son, Fred, said she would also be remembered for her winning smile.

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“She always had a smile, something positive to say,” Fred said. “And she loved the City of Natchez.”

Her service to the city went beyond all expectations.

Her oldest, Jake Middleton, who served as alderman for 16 years and as mayor for four years, said his mother’s work ethic and dedication distinguished her character.

“If you’re not there to take it seriously and do your best at it, you didn’t need to be doing it,” Jake said. “That’s just the way we were raised.”

Mrs. Middleton was the matriarch of a family of public figures. Her husband, “Big Jake” Middleton, was an alderman for 17 years. He died while in office in 1981.

Former Mayor Tony Byrne said it was customary when an alderman died while in office to appoint the deceased’s spouse to his or her position in order to help take care of the family.

“But they didn’t really come to meetings,” Byrne said. “They just got the paycheck.”

Mrs. Middleton didn’t take her appointment as a symbolic gesture.

“She just went to work,” Byrne said. “And she did an outstanding job of it.”

Byrne said Middleton was meant to simply finish out her husband’s term, but because of a lawsuit concerning the ward lines of the city, the next election was postponed and Middleton served several years as alderwoman.

Middleton also worked at The Natchez Democrat in the proofing department during her term.

Jake Middleton said his mother’s first few months in office were difficult.

“She was grieving the loss of her husband, and we were grieving the loss of our dad,” Jake said.

The city was in the process of annexing the Morgantown area at the time, which was part of her ward. Jake said this made her term even more challenging.

The other city officials, Fred Middleton said, were very helpful to her.

“We would be always grateful to Mayor Byrne and for all aldermen that were there for my mother during that time,” Fred said.

“She was given a job to do, and she took that and did the best she could with it,” Fred said. “My mother loved politics, and she loved serving the people of Natchez.”

She did not run for re-election. Her second-born son, Tom Middleton, won his mother’s seat at the conclusion of her term. Jake Middleton succeeded his younger brother as alderman, then served one term as mayor.

“She knew how much (my dad) loved what he did as an alderman,” Fred said. “It was important to take his legacy and continue it, and my brother Tom was elected to serve in that position, which was a great legacy for my dad as well.”

Mrs. Middleton’s service to her community went beyond politics. Beth Street, who worked with Middleton in the school library of Natchez High School for 10 years, said her dedication to her work was inspiring.

“She went beyond the pale,” Street said. “She did things beyond what was required of her.”

Street attended church with Middleton at Jefferson Street United Methodist Church. She described Middleton as an exemplary Christian.

“Everybody loved her, and we will miss her,” Street said.

Fred Middleton said one of the most important things about his mother’s memory was her devotion to her church.

“When you raise three boys, you’ve got to have a lot of faith,” he said.

Jake Middleton said his mother’s legacy was one of action.

“There’s plenty of people out there that whine and complain,” Jake said. “Well, if you don’t like it, go out there and get involved and change things. That’s what my mother did.”

Services for Peggy Middleton will be 11 a.m. today at Jefferson Street United Methodist Church.