Robert P. "Sonny" Jarrell
The skies wept at Lake Serene on June 10, 2021, as the much-loved Hattiesburg native, conservationist, athlete and businessman, Robert Pickel “Sonny” Jarrell passed from this life. Sonny’s spirit left this earth with his loved ones at his bedside.
Sonny was born on September 15, 1942, in Hattiesburg, to Virginia Pickel Jarrell and Robert “Bob” Jarrell. While his mother nurtured his artistic talents and his entrepreneurial acumen, Sonny’s childhood weekends, summers and holidays were spent camping, fishing and hunting with his father and grandfather, traipsing through the land, water and wilds of Mississippi’s pine belt and coastal plain, and being doted on by his grandmother.
Under the tutelage of his father and grandfather, Sonny learned how to design, build and fix just about anything, skills honed throughout his personal and professional life. He attended Mississippi State University with plans to study aeronautical engineering, but he sorely missed his high school sweetheart, Elaine Thurman. He returned to Hattiesburg, and to Elaine, and received his degree in Architectural Engineering Technology from the University of Southern Mississippi.
In 1964 Sonny and Elaine married and the two built a life in their community, church and businesses while raising their children, Joey and Jacque.
Sonny spent more than 33 years in the construction business and then joined Elaine as co-owner of Town and Country Real Estate. He became a highly respected and sought after certified home inspector.
After Elaine’s untimely death in 2013, friends encouraged Sonny to reach out to a mutual friend whom Sonny had met 20 years prior at a dog-training class. Eventually, a reluctant Sonny did reach out to Margaret Buttross Brinegar, they met for coffee, and from there embarked on a second and magical romance for them both. They spent nearly 8 years on adventures large and small, “making memories,” as he was known to say. They reveled in each other’s company whether at their home on Lake Serene or at their camp on Mary Walker Bayou, bird watching, fishing, tooling the backwaters of the Pascagoula or open waters of the Gulf on “The Maggie B,” working on home projects, or simply enjoying the quiet. They were seldom apart. Margaret and Sonny squeezed a second lifetime of love, laughter and memories into their time together.
Sonny was a person who not only could do anything, but would do anything and for anyone - family, friends, community, or the natural world that he so dearly loved. He aspired to perfection and sought to instill the same kind of ideals in the people he knew and loved. He was known to say as motivating praise, “You really accomplished something!”
Sonny had many interests, was always curious, and always learning.
He played competitive tennis in high school and throughout his adult life. In the late 1970s, with the support of Elaine, he decided he wanted to begin a fitness regimen for himself and his children and the three embarked on training for marathons, biathlons and triathlons. He earned the nickname, “Bo,” after the legendary football and baseball star, Bo Jackson. Sonny was often featured in or interviewed by local newspapers and television about fitness and its impacts on the quality of a person’s life. Whether running a race with his children or carrying the relay-torch for United Ways of Hattiesburg and Laurel, Sonny made fitness a personal matter and a matter for lifting up other people. Sonny organized the Hub City Bikers Club, served on the Hattiesburg Chamber of Commerce Task Force on Recreation and Tourism, was Coordinator for the Bike Advocacy Group of Mississippi’s Metropolitan Planning Organization of Hattiesburg, and was a champion for the creation of the Rails-To-Trails Long Leaf Trace. He is honored on the Trace with a marker at Mile 14.
Sonny made vast and lasting contributions to conservation in Mississippi. He received accolades from resource agencies and from community leaders and organizations. In 1992 he was recognized by the Mississippi Wildlife Federation as their Soil, Air and Water Conservationist of the Year, and in 1994 he received their highest honor, Conservationist of the Year. He was a zealous advocate for Black Creek and regularly participated with his children in volunteer cleanup days. He hosted workshops and made numerous presentations on conservation. Sonny was the state’s first citizen water quality monitor and, because of his activism, in 1992 Black Creek became the first stream in Mississippi enrolled in the national Save-Our-Streams program, paving the way for Mississippi’s Adopt-A-Stream Program. In a 1994 article in the Hattiesburg American, writer Lance Davis referred to Sonny as “the grandfather of Mississippi’s Adopt-A-Stream program.”
He was a devoted and nurturing husband to Elaine and then to Margaret, he was a proud and ever present dad, and he was a loving grandfather to Jesse, Laini, Belle, and Cass, and to great-granddaughter Carter. Sonny is survived by his wife Margaret, children Joey Jarrell and Jacque Jarrell Forrester (Jamie), his grandchildren, and by a whole host of friends and admirers. Though an only child with a small family, he was a beloved member of Margaret’s immediate and extended family.
Sonny was preceded in death by his parents, grandparents Jessie and Scott Pickel and Marie and Guy Jarrell, an infant brother, Guy, and Elaine.
A private family service will be held at a later date. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that memorial donations be made to a charity of choice, but suggests the Long Leaf Trace’s “Friends of the Trace,” 2895 West 4th Street, Hattiesburg, Mississippi 39401-5817, or the Mississippi-American Cancer Society, Post Office Box 4449 Brandon, Mississippi 39047-4449.