Melrose advocate remembered for smile, heart

Published 1:14 am Friday, October 21, 2016

NATCHEZ — Few — if any — people loved their job more than Fred Page.

Friends and family remember the longtime employee of the Natchez National Historical Park’s Melrose estate as one of the area’s finest treasures.

Page died Saturday at the age of 85.

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“He loved Melrose,” grandson C.J. Dee said. ”That was his heart. He had been working there since he was 18 years old.”

In 1950, Ethel Kelly hired Page to help manage the historic estate. He continued to work for Kelly until she died in 1975.

When Melrose was sold to John and Betty Callon in 1976, Page was hired to give tours of the property to visitors.

The National Park Service bought the property in 1990, and Page became a park ranger for the Natchez National Historical Park. He continued to conduct tours until he retired 10 years ago.

After retirement, Page returned to volunteer his time and his stories about the national park property with the tourists he met at the Natchez Visitor Reception Center.

“He was an adopted son of Natchez,” Natchez National Historical Park Superintendent Kathleen Bond said. “He loved Natchez, loved Melrose, loved to learn and loved to talk.

“He was a very special man, who had a gift for making people feel really, really good,” Bond said.

Bond worked alongside Page for 23 years. She first met Page when she was hired as a curator for the Natchez park.

“I felt comfortable and close to him from the very beginning,” Bond said.

One of Page’s greatest assets was his amazing memory, on which the park property relied to help tell the story of the mansion and surrounding property, Bond said.

“I was often blown away by his detailed responses when asked about his recollections of the place.”

Most recently, Page helped locate the enslaved persons’ cemetery for Melrose, Bond said.

“He was a treasure,” he said.

Marian Williams, Ethel Kelly’s oldest granddaughter, said Page was an extremely important part of Melrose.

“He was wonderfully skillful and always helpful,” Williams said. “My grandmother relied on him for almost everything.”

In 2014, Williams and other Kelly descendants returned to the mansion for a family reunion. Williams and her brother and sister were especially excited to see Page.

“He was so cordial and was excited to see us too,” Williams said.

Cane Callon, the son of John and Betty Callon, lived in the house with Page while the house was being restored after it was purchased in 1976.

“He was a real treasure for the family and for Melrose,” Callon said.

For two-and-a-half years, Dee has been following in his grandfather’s footsteps as an intern at the Natchez National Historical Park.

Like his grandfather, Dee gives tours of the mansion Page worked in for more than half a century.

“He taught me everything I know from the inside out,” Dee said.

More importantly, Page taught his grandson life’s important lessons, Dee said.

“Every time you saw him, he had a smile on his face and always had kind words,” Dee said. “He taught me a lot about Melrose. He taught me how to be a man.”

The funeral service for Page will be at 1 p.m. today at Zion Hill Missionary Baptist Church No.1. Burial will follow in Sunset View Memorial Park Cemetery.