Friday, June 19, 2009

Life and Times of Judith Toups, 1930 - 2007

Judith Toups
November 30, 1930 - February 27, 2007


The phone call I had long dreaded came at 5 p.m. on a Sunday evening in late February, 2007. My beautiful, feisty, compassionate, ebullient, forever chain-smoking mother, Judy, was dying, more quickly than anyone expected. I moved up my flight reservation to go see her by five days and was in the air at 6:00 a.m. the next morning.
Delta Airlines last-minute "bereavement" fare for a flight from Missoula to Huntsville, Alabama? $2,300. To make sure that I never forget the emotional turmoil of this tragic week, Delta also managed to lose my luggage at the end of the trip.
I arrived in Huntsville on Monday, February 26 and had 18 hours to sit with my mother as she lay dying, surrounded by all my brothers and sisters. Together we watched our magnificent mother take her last breath, ending a full and storied life cut short by smoking furiously for over five decades.

We hugged each other as we cried out eyes out, said a few prayers, cried some more, then laughed, sulked, talked about it for a day or so and went our separate ways, back to our separate lives, forever changed by the loss of someone we all loved and cherished and knew was beloved by more people than we would ever know.

Back to our lives, alone, without our beloved mother for the first time.

I returned to Darby, Montana to try to heal the gaping psychic wound of losing the person who had born and raised me, not once, but twice.
When I was 14 years old I had a serious motorcycle accident that required numerous surgeries and hospital stays, along with 3 months of home health care when I was entombed in a full-body "Spika" cast from below my armpits down the entire right leg and just above the knee of my left leg and sent home to roast during the summer of 1971. My mother seldom left my side during this time, helping me recuperate by wiping my reckless young butt, feeding me, and keeping vigil over me along with a team of neighborhood friends lest the house should catch on fire and require a team of 4 able -bodied people to lift me up and turn me sideways in order to exit the front door ahead of the flames.
So, for this and many other reasons, I cannot avoid writing this book. It is her destiny to live on in memory by whatever means, and it is my fate to reel it all into something she would be proud of. My debt of gratitude for the life she gave me and nurtured till her dying day compels it.

Beyond the personal, her memory and legacy as a writer, lecturer, teacher, adviser and friend too great in the minds and hearts of the many who knew and loved her to be relegated to past simply because she's left the earthly plane. Or lost because nobody took the time to give her amazing life story a context to live on, with a beginning and an end, and slap a cover on it.

Judy would expect nothing less than the whole truth, with minor edits for tone and style, of course. I don't want to disappoint her circle of friends, and mostly I don't want to disappoint her. There would be hell to pay, forever. :-) So don't hold back your input and criticisms; she never did!

- Jay Toups, Judy's #2 son

Judy Toups, circa 1988

Note: Stories from friends who knew Judy and family member are being included as they arrive. Along with selected newspaper columns by Judy chosen from over 1,700 columns. Please consider all of this a draft of a biographical work in progress, and check back again because content on this site will continue to evolve.

Judy's New England Childhood

Magnolia, MA photo by Derick Veliz

Judith Ann Perry was born November 30, 1930 in Gloucester, Massachusetts. The towns of Gloucester, Magnolia, Essex, Manchester-by-the-Sea, and Rockport comprise the geographic area known as Cape Ann, a rocky peninsula located approximately 30 miles northeast of Boston which forms the northern edge of Massachusetts Bay.

postcard: Drying Fish, Gloucester, MA ca. 1915

Cape Ann is where Judy spent her childhood and early adult years. Little changed even today, Cape Ann's winding roads leading from village to village, copse to copse, and beach to beach, made it easy to wander where Judy grew up. With its historic maritime setting, heavily glaciated, rocky terrain, and abundant woods, Cape Ann's natural beauty, pioneering social traditions and deep history would influence Judy throughout her life. Her first paintings, done in the early 1970s, were of rustic New England settings; often with birds perched in just the right places.

Ravenswood Park, Gloucester, MA
Long treasured by residents of Gloucester and neighboring towns, Ravenswood Park offers a tranquil wooded setting for walking, cross-country skiing, or snowshoeing along almost ten miles of trails and carriage paths.
Judy's parents, Desmond and Edna Perry, lived in nearby Magnolia. Judy had two siblings, her twin brother Jack, now deceased, and her older sister Jean. Her father Desmond "Grampy" worked as a butcher, and sometimes cursed like a sailor.

Our "Nana" Edna Perry was always impeccably dressed, unswervingly pleasant, and scrupulous about imparting proper manners and table etiquette to her children. Jean, Judy and Jack never let her down and made sure they passed on at least the basics of hygiene, dress, table manners, tone of voice and other essentials of formal behavior to their children. As a result Judy's dedication to upholding her standards for acceptable behavior in public, none of Judy's children spit in public or chew with their mouths open.

Judy's childhood began with The Great Depression and she became an attractive young woman during World War II. In high school, Judy was a member of the Rifle Squad, as well as the Dance Team. Shortly after graduation she met and married her first husband, Jerome Pimental.

postcard: Gloucester Breakwater ca. 1915

There are 24 mottos carved into Dogtown boulders. These stones can be found on the Babson Boulder Trail in Gloucester. She probably saw and remembered them all by heart as a child playing in these woods.

  • Judy married Jerome Pimental in 1951. They had a son, Jeffrey John Pimental, born 1952. They divorced shortly after Jeff was born.
  • Judy married Emile Joseph (Jay) Toups in 1955.
  • Jay August was born August, 1956 in Long Beach, California.
  • Judy's first daughter, Patrice Michelle, was born December 13th, 1958
  • Judy's second daughter, Christina Marie was born April 1, 1960.
  • Paternal twins Drayton and Desmond were born December 30th, 1961

Motherhood required myriad skills from my mother: Cleaning, cooking, shopping, counseling, disciplining, and generally making quick decisions, often without our father present. He spent much time at sea in our early years. Judy was no stranger to stretching the family budget by every means possible. We kids were treated to handmade clothing, lots of Hamburger Helper, and bologna sandwiches made by the dozens and frozen so that we all had brown-bag lunches at school each and every school day, for many years. She also did the family taxes and paid the bills.

Judy with "Junior", circa 1970

She was a first-rate seamstress and turned out fairly good dress pants and blazers, dresses and skirts for we kids. I watched in horror one day as she sunk a Singer sewing machine needle completely through one of her fingers trying to finish a sewing project. The machine-driven needle passed through her finger more than once and only stopped when she took her foot off the pedal that kept it going. She turned white, reached up with her free hand and reversed the machine's direction to back the needle out. I think it hurt too bad for her to cry.

Judy once took off her shoe and threatened to smack a College Park neighbor who insulted the family name over the fence. When that didn't work, she and my father then decided to sell the house on Swetman Boulevard. We moved to a nicer home on Hartford Place, with nicer neighbors. A quiet cul-de-sac with lots of mature live oaks in the backyard, and a half-mile closer to the beach. It was a great place to grow up.

Judy worked as a waitress around 1970 at "El Torito" in Fernwood Shopping Center. I worked there for a while washing dishes, as did my brother Jeff, who cooked. We called it Alice's Restaurant because it was owned by Alice Esparza, who now lives in Brownsville, Texas. And, Alice actually booked live music acts on Fridays. It was the first place I ever saw a real guitar, Bob, player playing "Classical Gas." My mother, a passing fair piano player herself, and I usually stopped what we were doing and soaked it up.

Around 1972 Judy bought a used piano, had it tuned and began reacquainting herself with the handful of lessons she'd taken as a child. She didn't practice scales, she actually played through whatever sheet music she had until it came up to speed. She loved Scott Joplin's compositions, and it was always fun to watch her hands bouncing up and down on the keys in a syncopated barrel house ragtime. Since she was still a mother with a house and kids to attend to, mastery of any given tune often took some time.

However, after all the kids were at school it was very likely that Judy played her barrelhouse tunes and sang at the top of her lungs. She was much too self conscious to ever put on a musical show, but she had more than enough talent.

After a few years the piano was sold, probably to take care of a financial obligation or a family emergency, and there were many for a family of eight.

Neighborhood & Binocularhood

In the 1960s and 70s, the Toups household had lots of pets: up to 20 cats at a time, several dogs, hamsters, frogs, turtles, and parakeets. One bird named Darling Judy was especially fond of. We kids had never seen anyone converse with a bird before, but it seemed natural enough. Our mother talks to birds. They talk back. Darling was a member of the family, accorded all rank and privilege. Judy was heartbroken when Darling flew the coop and never returned.

It wasn't long before she filled the gap with Rory, her beloved grey Persian, and then Junior, an orange short-haired cat. Out in the large kennel, Junior was a lightning rod. The one other cats loved to hate him, mainly because he refused to defend himself. It wasn't long until Junior was accorded a favored spot inside the house and lived very comfortably in elevated feline privilege for sixteen years.

In 1972, her childbearing years over and her children growing rapidly, Judy began to paint. She produced many oil and acrylic works reflecting her maritime hometown roots in Massachusetts and in Mississippi. Many of her paintings featured birds, and it wasn't long before she obtained a field guide and binoculars and began learning to identify each bird by their call and unique physical features. She started in the backyard, like most novice birders. Not long after she began pointing out what she saw to anyone who showed even a passing interest in her new hobby.

At my mother's insistence, my father tried birding during this time. He had his bins and a field guide, but he didn't have the passion or patience for actually birding. As a result, he spent a lot of time waiting in the car while Mom had a look around. And get agitated with her when she'd yell "stop!" a dozen times in a short stretch of road.

He was after all, a navigator whose life had been spent getting from point A to B as quickly and efficiently as possible. Without detours or countermanding orders from anyone, including his wife. That's what twenty four years as Chief Petty Officer in the Navy and ten more as a 300-ton ship's captain in the Gulf will do to a person.

E.J. and Judy, 1981

It wasn't long before Judy went birding and Jay stayed home to watch television and recuperate from his 2 week on - 1 week off schedule as a ship's captain in the Gulf. Judy on the other hand became a master of multitasking behind the wheel as she explored more and more of south Mississippi's birding areas. Binoculars, coffee, burning cigarettes, maps, field guides. She juggled them all and made it look easy as she reconnoitered the coastal counties. And she learned all she needed to know about birding to teach others how to do it too.

Mississippi Coast Audubon Society

Judy's contributions to preserving Mississippi's environment and birding began when she helped to found a local chapter of the Audubon Society. Since its charter in 1976, the Mississippi Coast Audubon Society has played an active role in many areas – conservation and protection of natural resources, advancing student educational services, partnering with other organizations and agencies for habitat enhancement and wildlife preservation such as the Prothonotary Warbler Trail at Ward Bayou Wildlife Management Area. MCAS members also fill the volunteer ranks at festivals and other outdoor events.

From its inception in 1975 to the present, under the Nest in Peace project, the chapter has taken the lead in gaining and maintaining safe mainland nesting areas for beach-nesting birds, such as Least Terns and Black Skimmers.

Conservationist of the Year Award - 2002

Jared Peyton's photograph titled "A Watchful Eye" was selected by The Northshore Bird Club to be the subject of an award given to Judith Toups for Environmentalist of the Year. Jared is pictured with Judith Toups and Northshore Bird Club President Doug Wilds.

"Judith was given the Environmentalist of the Year Award by the Northshore Bird Club in 2002. The award was a surprise to her...she thought she was meeting the Northshore Bird Club for a birding field trip to Jerry Boelte's catfish ponds in Mississippi. There really was indeed an actual field trip planned, but before the trip began Doug Wilds, the club president called her in front of the group. She still had no idea about the award presentation and thought he called her forward so she could be introduced to everyone. It was quite a complete surprise to her. The award was presented and afterwards she was told about the photographer, Jared Peyton (age 14).

The Story Behind the Image: Months earlier, Northshore Bird Club members submitted images to be considered for the award, Jared's image was selected by a majority vote of club members.

Judy was completely enthralled with Jared, who had been birding along side of me since age 3. From the minute she stepped from the car, she couldn't keep her eyes off him and came over to meet us. Her enthusiasm to what she considered to be the next generation is something I will never forget. She remained in touch with Jared for a few years following that birding trip and she even had editions of her newsletters sent to our home.

I am very happy to say we were fortunate to have met your mother, she was truly a remarkable woman."

-submitted by Noel Peyton

The Bushwhackers

The Life Bird Macarena

Old Friends

Birding 101

Last Gasp Birders

Over three decades, Judy cultivated a devoted following of birders who took full advantage of her deep knowledge and willingness to teach others about birds and their habitats from Arizona, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey and elsewhere.

Along the way, Judy managed to crank out articles, books, even trail maps to help other birders along.

Judy unveils the Mississippi Coast Birding Trails map in 2004 (Sun Herald photo)

The Final Chapter

Underneath her blond hair and pleasant-as-a-spring-day demeanor, Judy had stoic New England resolve and lots of practice using it. When it was time for her to leave her abusive first husband with her newborn son in tow, she shipped out. When it was time to marry again and raise six children, she mostly did it alone since our father was often at sea for extended periods during her childbearing years from 1952-1966.

In her later years, Judy scrimped and saved so that she could have what she called "nice things." She acquired a taste for art of all kinds: paintings, prints, sculptures, pots, wall hangings. At flea markets, she haggled for the best price and usually won. Her artist friends also obliged her by providing prints of anything Judy admired. As a result, the walls of her home were covered in a rich, warm display of nature art ranging from Audubon and Roger Tory Petersen prints to originals and prints from her favorite local artists.

When it was time to stand up for wildlife, she led the charge and organized at a local level by reaching out to her neighbors, friends, local government and the media. When it was time to make a difference in the world around her by speaking out, she usually erred on the side of saying too much rather than too little. And when it was time for her to die, she took her medicine and declined all possible invasive treatment, preferring to depart this life with all systems accounted for.

The last ten years for Judy included losing her husband to cancer on April 2, 1998, surgery for gallbladder removal, a minor stroke, and the lung cancer which began to metastasize and caused her untimely death. During her hospital stay for gallbladder surgery in 2006, she told me that her doctors had noted "spots" on her lung. That was her word for lung cancer, as it turned out. Very little more was said.

There were many bright spots in her later years as well. In September 2004, she was overwhelmed by having a Ward Bayou nature trail named after her. There are three videos of this event taken my me, and one by WLOX. She does a great job of sharing the credit for her new honor with her friends and birding associates. She had poise, that woman!

The last year and a half of Judy's life brought Hurricane Katrina, which obliterated much of what Judy loved and worked for so many years. Woodland habitats were poisoned by salt water, trees shredded, thousands upon thousands of birds and their breeding and nesting areas destroyed across most of the Mississippi Coast. On top of the environmental disaster, dozens of her friends lost everything. Everybody lost something.

To make things worse, after the storm Judy saw developers and big money winning the battle for the Gulf Coast on every front: casinos up to 800 feet inland, and removal of Live Oak trees by the thousands on the beachfront. Utter disregard for what was left of the natural environment.

Bastards, she called them.

Katrina damage, day of storm on Anniston Avenue in Gulfport.

4 p.m. August 29, 2005: A Walk to the Beach

"Hurricane Katrina changed everything. It charged ashore in coastal Mississippi on August 29, 2005, laying 75 miles of this state's coastline to waste. Its immediate toll on birds was an estimated 70 percent mortality of the backyard species in its path: Red-bellied and Downy Woodpeckers, Blue Jay, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Northern Cardinal, and others. Species that don't usually engender great concern - Fish Crow, Red-winged Blackbird, and House Finch, for example - also suffered significant losses."

Birder's World Special Report: Mississippi After Katrina
by Judith A. Toups

Operation Backyard Recovery

After Katrina, Judy was down, but she wasn't out. Conceived and launched by Judy and other members of Mississippi Coast Audubon Society in response to the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Operation Backyard Recovery is focused on helping people and wildlife recover from the damage to trees and habitats across coastal Mississippi and beyond. After Katrina, Judy was quick to recognize the impending wildlife crisis and quickly called for birders to help alleviate the problem by building and placing birdhouses wherever possible.

She dubbed this idea Operation Backyard Recovery, and now Audubon Mississippi, working with Audubon Chapters, other Audubon state programs, the National Audubon Society, and a number of other partners in south Mississippi and elsewhere, is taking up the call.

"The brightest spot amid the ruins of Katrina was occupied by the ruby-throated hummingbird. Like the small miracle that it is, it came in unprecedented numbers on the morning following that darkest of days. Unfortunately, it sought nourishment in a place in which no blossom survived and insect life had been decimated. The few retail outlets that returned to business within a week were soon sold out of nectar feeders, which in turn precipitated a call for help that would become known as Operation Backyard Recovery--a continuing effort that first resulted in the dispersal of hundreds of donated feeders, and a story unto itself."

Birdwatcher's Digest: Katrina Report
by Judith Toups

"Bird Woman" at Glacier National Park, July 2005

A smoker since her teens, Judy was unshakable in her belief that she could never quit smoking. Despite numerous interventions by her friends and family (most of whom still smoke as of the time of this writing), she never quit for more than a day or two, or when she was so sick that she simply couldn't.

Lydia of Lydia's Bird Shoppe in Waveland, which closed in the late 1990s, recently related a story about Judy working in her shop. She couldn't help herself from smoking inside the shop, and Lidia tried in vain to prevent her from so doing, to no avail. She even organized an intervention to help my mother stop smoking, which was basically ignored, as was her style when confronted with difficult requests. Lydia stopped well short of firing her or disciplining her because "she knew her birds, and customers flocked to the store to learn what to feed them, where to go to see them, how to attract them, and most importantly, how to care for them."

I was on the coast with Judy and my sister Christine to attend my 30th high school class reunion the weekend before Katrina. We were very lucky and had little damage to Judy's home just north of the railroad tracks, which proved to be a life-saving levee that stopped the 28 foot surge from flooding thousands of more homes along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Just over the tracks: complete devastation.

We missed a bullet, but the place we all called home for so many years was gone. Wiped off the map, nearly. Returning a year after the storm to attend yet another College Park neighborhood reunion, I was saddened to see the only meaningful rebuilding going on near the beach was casino and condos, along with gas stations, restaurants and other income-generating businesses which have historically lined the beach along stretches of Highway 90 from Ocean Springs to Bay St. Louis. Thousands of broom-clean home slabs remained, once the elegant homes of people with deep roots on the Coast and now up for sale or awaiting funds from insurance companies to rebuild. Many of the people who lived through Katrina but lost everything will never rebuild. Many families were forced to relocate, either temporarily or permanently. My mother and sister Christine were, in some respects, victims of the storm's devastating economic blow to the Gulf Coast.

When my sister Christine was dismissed from her position as Ad Layout Coordinator by the Sun Herald after nearly 12 years of service about 9 months after the storm, my mother and her hatched a rescue plan which turned out to be Judy's swan song. She and Christine would sell the family house on Hartford Place and move away from the Gulf Coast to start again.

I think even she was surprised to quickly receive a generous offer for her home, reflecting the upward pressure on housing on the Coast. Not long after, the deed was done, the house was sold, boxes packed and the truck rolled to Decatur, Alabama, a suburb of Huntsville in October, 2006. After unpacking, Judy immediately started decorating, painting, and hiring contractors to make everything "just right." By early February 2007, Judy's health had declined noticeably. She would not live to see March.

The week before she died, Judy fielded many phone calls from her friends, and several came to Decatur to be with her in her last days. After a week of holding court with her closest friends, Judy collapsed on Sunday, February 25 and never regained consciousness. It is believed that she had a stroke or heart attack. When both Drayton and I arrived Monday, she did exhibit some recognition of our faces by apparently trying to hug each of us. It was very touching, and so very sad for each of her children.

We loved this woman dearly. We would have done anything to change the outcome but we could not. By Tuesday morning she was very weak and passed at 3:30 p.m. CST on February 27, 2007.


Christina, Drayton, Jeff, Des, Patrice and Jay (September 2002)

Margaret, Melanie, Sean, Adam, Judy, Tyler, Rachel, Jared with Judy in September 2002


Birding Coastal Mississippi and Adjacent Counties
Judith A. Toups, Jerry Bird, Stacy Jon Peters
Foreword by Kenn Kaufman
Paperback: 168 pages
Stackpole Books
ISBN 0-8117-2969-9

Birds and Birding on the Mississippi Coast (Hardcover)
by Judith A. Toups , Jerome A. Jackson
Hardcover: 303 pages
Publisher: Univ Pr of Mississippi (Txt) (November 1987)
ISBN-10: 0878053166
ISBN-13: 978-0878053162



Thank you for reading Judy's biography. We sincerely hope it inspires you to tell us your very own Judy story!

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