Jeri Beard grew up on a farm in Lee County and fell in love with the land. Her grandmother, who lived with the family, raised amazing flowers and spent hours teaching Beard about them.
“She taught me how to play the piano and she read to us at night,” Beard said. “That’s about all you could do for entertainment on a farm. And she had the most beautiful flowers you’ve ever seen.”
Beard left Northeast Mississippi to pursue her education and would spend many years away from home. Her first marriage, to an obstetrician-gynecologist, kept her busy being a doctor’s wife in Florida. Her second marriage, to a Swift packing company heir and naval architect, found her living in condos, hotels and on Lear jets all across the country.
“We’d have breakfast in San Francisco and dinner in New Orleans,” she said.
She finally returned to Tupelo in the 1980s and married the love of her life, Tommy Beard.
“We knew each other early on in life,” she said. “He was truly a kind, kind man. And he loved flowers, especially roses.”
About 15 years ago, the couple had Mid-South Nursery landscape their yard for year-round color. Azaleas and hydrangeas beautify the home in spring; roses, gardenias and daylilies pepper the landscape in summer; mums flourish in the fall; and evergreens keep the grounds vibrant in winter.
“There’s something going on all the time,” said Beard. “When my husband was alive, we had the most beautiful yard. Now, the azaleas haven’t been trimmed back as they should. I haven’t taken real good care of it since he died in 2002.”
But the wildness of the yard seems appropriate for this home tucked in a secluded wooded lot in east Tupelo.
“I must say, you feel like you’re living in the country here,” she said. “But everything is just about five minutes away.”
Looking to the future
When Jeri and Tommy Beard finally got together and she moved into his east Tupelo home in 1986, they decided to name it Journey’s End, as a nod to philanthropist Arthur Vining Davis, who named his home in Florida the same.
“Tommy said, ‘This house is Journey’s End,’ and I said, ‘That’s wonderful, because I’m so tired of traveling,’” Beard recalled. “I was so happy to have a yard again. I’d lived in condos and motels so long and when I got here, I wouldn’t let Tommy even cut a weed.”
When the weather is nice, she spends most days in the yard tending to the flowers, shrubs and trees her husband loved so much.
“The trees are why I live here,” she said, “not because of this house. Builders today are putting houses too close together and taking down trees. They need to rethink all of that, don’t you think?”
Beard was a registered nurse for many years and also earned her Ph.D. in clinical psychology. She sometimes counsels young couples who are having marital problems – and she uses her backyard as her office.
“I bring them out here and sit them on that bench and we talk,” she said. The bench has a concrete angel perched upon it with the inscription: ‘See heaven in a wildflower … and eternity in an hour.’ (The inscription is taken from a poem by the English poet William Blake called “Auguries of Innocence.”)
“There’s a honeysuckle vine growing on the fence back here and an orange tree and an avocado tree,” Beard said. “The aroma out here in the summer is delicious. And it’s just so peaceful.”
Beard has toyed with the idea of downsizing and moving to a patio home in Tupelo, but the idea of leaving her home, her flowers and her memories is just out of the question.
“I’ve never been one to look backward,” she said. “I always look forward. Yes, I’ve had some tragedy in my life. I’ve lost three husbands and two children. Now, I’m just determined to live as good a life as God gives me.”
Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal