BAY ST. LOUIS, MS (WLOX) - The patriarch of a well known Bay St. Louis family lost his life in a tragic house fire over the weekend. Joseph Labat, 87, died in a blaze that engulfed his home on St. John Street.
Family, friends and neighbors gathered in front of the home Sunday as word of the tragedy spread.
"This is a big shock," said Ronald Labat, one of Joseph's 14 children. He said his dad had just been released from the hospital Saturday.
"He was so happy to be home back in his bed," Labat recalled. "The last time I saw him he was happy, he was smiling, he was really happy to be home. So that's the way I'm going to remember him."
Family members believe a cigar may have started the fire. Mr.Joe, as many called him, was rarely seen without one in his mouth. His daughter said when she left the house Sunday afternoon, he was sitting in his recliner smoking a cigar.
"We feel the fire was accidental. There is nothing to indicate otherwise. I believe it was just a tragic accident," said Chief Pam San Fillippo with the Bay St. Louis Fire Department.
Long-time residents will remember Mr. Joe for the business his family ran since 1920: Labat's Dry Cleaners. For years, it was the only cleaner in town.
His son said dad always took pride in his work and took on the role as quality control manager.
"He did quality work and he wouldn't let it get out of there until he was satisfied," Labat said. "I always remember him going in at nine or 10 in the morning and coming home at nine or 10 at night."
For more than 75 years, almost everyone in town, including the fire chief, used Labat's Dry Cleaners. Hurricane Katrina closed the business for good.
"I believe anybody who has been in Hancock County any length of time knows the Labat family, certainly the Labat's Dry Cleaners from years ago. I remember them when I was a child," Chief San Fillippo said.
"He and my uncle would smoke cigars all day in that cleaners. He must have had a good clientele because nobody ever complained about smokey clothes," Labat laughed.
His unexpected death has left a family and community in mourning. Fire officials are still investigating an official cause of the fire.
Edmond Fahey's Funeral Home in Bay St. Louis will handle the arrangements once they are complete.