Remembering Jerry Lee: Longtime grocery store owner leaves legacy of love, generosity spanning decades

Longtime grocery store owner Jerry Lee died Feb. 21 at the age of 88. Lee owned multiple stores over the years, but is best known for his namesake store.
Published: Feb. 23, 2022 at 9:17 AM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

PASCAGOULA, Miss. (WLOX) - A longtime Pascagoula businessman is being remembered by generations of people who have shopped in his grocery store over the years.

One of only two locally-owned grocery stores in Pascagoula and the only grocery store in Gautier, Jerry Lee’s is a place that countless people have shopped at since it first opened in 1958. It’s a place that evokes nostalgia in some as they recall days of their youth that were spent there working behind a cash register or pushing buggies. For others, it’s a store that brings feelings of comfort, where customers are often greeted by name because they’ve shopped there for decades, a place they now bring their own children and grandchildren to buy groceries.

Behind the business was Jerry Lee, the grocery store’s namesake. The well-known and beloved businessman died peacefully on Feb. 21 at the age of 88 surrounded by his family.

Jerry Lee and his wife Polly opened their first grocery store in Pascagoula on Live Oak Avenue...
Jerry Lee and his wife Polly opened their first grocery store in Pascagoula on Live Oak Avenue in 1958. They moved to the current location on Ingalls Avenue shortly after and have been there ever since. Jerry Lee died Feb. 21, 2022.(Jerry Lee's)

At the age of 18, Lee enlisted in the Marines, serving three years before returning home to help with his father’s business. In 1955, he married Polly and together they opened the first Jerry Lee’s grocery on Live Oak Avenue in Pascagoula in 1958.

With a focus on providing friendly customer service and quality food at competitive prices, the young couple’s business grew. Less than two years later, they moved to the current site in a building that once faced Ingalls Avenue. After a fire destroyed that store in 1970, Lee reopened in the current store, which faces east.

With a focus on customer service and competitive prices, Jerry Lee grew his grocery store,...
With a focus on customer service and competitive prices, Jerry Lee grew his grocery store, adding an additional location in Gautier.(WLOX)

Just two years later, he went on to open Jerry Lee’s in Gautier. In 1974, Lee opened a second grocery store in Pascagoula, Publix Warehouse Foods. A second Gautier store followed in 2001. Hurricane Katrina destroyed Publix in 2005 and, eventually, the first Gautier store would close and merge with the larger second location.

“At one time, he was the largest independent employer in Jackson County,” said Ronda DeForrest, the office manager for the Pascagoula store. “I’ve seen Mr. Lee bagging groceries, sweeping floors. There wasn’t any job that he hadn’t already done or that he wouldn’t pick up and do again.”

Lee eventually retired, passing the businesses over to his son Mark Lee and daughter Susan Lee Harris.

While Lee’s stores are proof of his sharp business mind, it’s his reputation as being a generous and active member of the community that many will remember. Over the years, Lee served on several boards, sponsored numerous sports teams, and often gave back to the community through various endeavors.

But, for those who knew Lee on a personal level, it’s his kind heart, the way he treated people, and his love for family that they will remember the most.

“Mr. Lee is one in a million. He was generous to those that he knew and those that he didn’t know. He was a good person. He was just one of a kind, you know. He made you feel like part of his family,” said DeForrest. “It’s a corporation but it’s run like a family. People matter. Customers matter. Mr. Lee is going to be missed by lots of people. He was funny. He could tell great stories and I’m just going to miss him. He was family.”

Lee is survived by his wife Polly, their three surviving children, 11 grandchildren,15 great-grandchildren, and his siblings, which includes brother Perry Wayne Lee, the owner of Pascagoula’s other locally-owned grocery store Wayne Lee’s.

Visitation will be Thursday, February 24, 2022, from noon to 3pm at First Baptist Church of Pascagoula. The funeral service will begin at 3pm with entombment to follow at Jackson County Memorial Park. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that you instead make donations to First Baptist Church in Pascagoula or a charity of your choice. To read Jerry Lee’s obituary in full, click here.

Want more WLOX news in your inbox? Click here to subscribe to our newsletter.

Copyright 2022 WLOX. All rights reserved.