Recently, I drove down Scenic Drive in Pass Christian as I often do to recall many good memories. I once had the good fortune to live there and enjoyed the quiet town with so much history.
I love the giant live oaks along the way that have endured the ravages of hurricanes over the centuries. And I always admire those stately mansions that have withstood all those years. But this trip was different.
I had come to see the empty lot where Chuck Ramsey’s mansion once stood. It had caught fire during a lightning storm a couple of years ago and burned for some 12 hours. The Pass Christian firefighters purportedly said it was the biggest house fire they had battled. Sadly, the house was damaged beyond repair.
Originally built in 1964, the house was bought by Chuck in 1993. He soon added two wings to the already massive house, more than doubling the size from around 11,000 to 25,000 square feet. The house was perched atop a 25-foot-tall bluff overlooking the Mississippi Sound with 400 ft of frontage on the beach. Featuring 15 bedrooms and even more bathrooms, it was one of the largest homes in the state if not the largest.
Ramsey House (Realtor.com)
Ramsey House (Sun Herald)
Shortly before I began working at the NASA test site in Bay St. Louis, Chuck had left there to start his own company Baytech. I was intrigued with his story as I shared the same dream of owning my own business. I don’t remember for certain when I first met Chuck. I believe it was not too long after my partners and I had followed in his footsteps and left to form our own company, Triton.
I do recall that he was kind and generous to us, sharing advice from what he had learned along the trail that lay before us. I respected and admired Chuck, who provided well for his family while he built his business into one of the larger homegrown companies in Mississippi. I remember stopping by his office on a Friday afternoon where he was kicked back smoking a cigar, accompanied by a glass of spirits to celebrate the end of the week with some of his management team.
I had the good fortune to be invited to his house for a Christmas party one year. His daughter, Jane, and my wife, DeeDee, had gone to school at Mississippi State together and then worked in the same office out at NASA. Ergo the reason for our invite.
I marveled at the splendor of what he had created. We were greeted at the door by a formally dressed butler in white coat and gloves as we entered his impressive home. I was proud for Chuck, who had chosen to enjoy the considerable fruits of his labors by building such a palace.
After Chuck passed away, the house was eventually put up for sale and listed at twice the price of the next most expensive house in the state. And sitting on 8 acres with a dream view, it was no doubt worth it. But it was still on the market when disaster struck.
Owned by the Ramsey Family, the home is in the 800 block of East Scenic Drive. It's 25,000 square-feet, stands three stories tall, and is known as the historic "Monroe House."(WLOX)
Many coast residents may remember visiting the home’s grounds for the annual “Toast to the Coast” fundraiser for Coast Episcopal School. (Pat Sullivan)WLOX
Drone video captured by Pat Sullivan shows firefighters working to extinguish the fire at Pass Christian's historic Monroe House.(Pat Sullivan) WLOX
Though I was aware that the family had made the difficult decision to demolish the ruins after the fire, I was still saddened at the sight. I paused and lingered. Gazing across the now empty space, I recalled how stately it looked at Christmas with those giant ornaments hanging from the huge live oaks. And I recalled Chuck’s larger-than-life figure that greeted us at the party that night.
All that remains
In a way, I felt happy that he had not been forced to witness what became of the beautiful place he had created. It struck me how we go through life believing we are building monuments to leave behind. But I am certain that Chuck understood that aside from the good works and memories that we create with family and friends: we’re really only building sandcastles on the beach.