Samuel Grady Thigpen Sr., a prominent Picayune businessman, local chronicler, was born in Lake Como, Mississippi, in Jasper County, to Samuel Forrest Thigpen and Julia Arledge Thigpen. Samuel Thigpen was a farmer, Jasper County superintendent of education, and publisher of the Lake Como News. When Grady, as he was known, was a boy, his grandfather, William Thigpen, recounted stories that he had heard from Revolutionary War veterans. Grady also grew up listening to Confederate veterans reminisce.
Thigpen attended the Lake Como School and Mississippi A&M College (now Mississippi State University) before graduating from Mississippi College in 1912. He then taught school in Poplarville from 1912 to 1917. During the World War I lumber boom he moved to Picayune as a timekeeper for the Goodyear Yellow Pine Company. He married Lorena Tate, the daughter of Col. Monroe David Tate, a prominent local businessman who also served as Pearl River County sheriff and the younger brother of E. E. Tate, the Father of Picayune.
Thigpen founded the Thigpen Hardware Company in Picayune in 1919 and prospered, later extending his interests into land and banking. His Thigpen Store News became popular not only for its free advertisements but also for his interspersed articles of local color. In 1947 he began telling his anecdotes about the old days on the Lower Pearl River in a weekly radio broadcast on WRJW. He invited listeners to come to his store to use the “free weight scales” and to drink ice water. He acquired the nicknames Grandpa Thigpen and Grandpa Grady, possibly bestowing them on himself. In 1961 the Picayune Item started printing his yarns, which he later collected and published in five books: Pearl River: Highway to Glory Land (1965); Next Door to Heaven (1965); Ninety and One Years (1965); A Boy in Rural Mississippi and Other Stories (1966); and Work and Play in Grand Day (1969).
Scholar Noel Polk, who was born and raised in Picayune, wrote that Thigpen’s books are not history but rather tell little stories of how people lived in the old days and “how much better things were then.” The tales attracted a wide readership and helped waken Pearl River Countians to what Polk called their historyless past.
- John H. Napier III, Lower Pearl River’s Piney Woods (1985)
- Noel Polk, Outside the Southern Myth (1997)