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Businessman Shouphie Habeeb dies at age 87

[12/26/03]Financial and civic leader Shouphie Habeeb died Wednesday, Dec. 24., 2003, at Central Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson. He was 87.

Mr. Habeeb was born in Lebanon and was brought to the United States while an infant. He grew up in the family grocery store on Pearl and Speed streets, where, he said, he and his brothers sacked groceries then followed customers home to return the sacks to the store for reuse.

He graduated from Vicksburg High School and, in 1941, Mr. Habeeb joined the U.S. Army as a private. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1943, and his work in the Middle East during World War II earned him the Legion of Merit, the highest award for a staff officer. He retired from the Army as a lieutenant colonel after 29 years of active and reserve service.

After the war, Mr. Habeeb founded First Federal Savings and Loan and was president and chief executive officer for 26 years. In the home-owned thrift, depositors’ savings were loaned to help more and more people become homeowners. He later worked with Unifirst Bank for Savings and Deposit Guaranty National Bank in Vicksburg before retiring in 1996.

“He was a very talented man,” said friend and Leo Boolos Jr., a certified public accountant.

Mr. Habeeb was also known as a public speaker. For example, when called on to deliver a report to his fellow Rotary Club members on a project, the latest of which was the Polio Plus program designed by Rotary International to eradicate polio from the world by 2005, he did so with great humor and flourish.

“He was a very loyal Rotarian,” said Bryan Brabston, president of the Vicksburg Rotary Club. “He set a goal to raise $10,000 from the club for Polio Plus” in 2003, Brabston said. “As of last count, that figure was approaching $14,000.”

He was a past president of Rotary, the Vicksburg Kiwanis Club and the Vicksburg Theatre Guild. His “Gold In The Hills” role was the villain, which he portrayed in the old-time melodrama for 35 years.

Charles Abraham, a retired department store owner and a nephew, said Mr. Habeeb was the person he called on for advice starting in high school. “He even wrote letters advising me when he was in the Army,” he said.

In the business world, Mr. Habeeb held several posts outside Vicksburg. For many years, he was board chairman of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Mississippi and was on the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, in addition to serving as president of the Mississippi Savings and Loan League.

He also served as president of what has grown into the United Way and was a past board chairman of the YMCA and Vicksburg Medical Center. He served as chairman of the Vicksburg Planning and Zoning Board and as a director of the Southern Cultural Heritage Center. People voted him Vicksburg Man of the Year and Boss of the Year, and he and his family were honored by the YMCA as Family of the Year.

He was a lifelong member of St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church, where he taught adult Sunday school for 13 years.

He was preceded in death by his mother and father, Alexander and Loretta Habeeb; two brothers, William and Phillip Habeeb, and a sister, Maggie Habeeb Abraham.

Mr. Habeeb is survived by his wife, Norma Habeeb of Vicksburg; three daughters, Catherine Stradinger of Vicksburg, Rebecca Habeeb of Tasmania and Virginia Habeeb of Vicksburg; two brothers, Touphie Habeeb of Vicksburg and Dr. Alfred Habeeb of Birmingham, Ala.; a sister, Waddad Buttross of Natchez, two grandchildren and other relatives and friends including a son-in-law, Joe Stradinger, and Minnie Bell Young Richardson.

Services will be at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church with the Rev. Peter Smith officiating. Burial will be at Cedar Hill Cemetery with Glenwood Funeral Home in charge. Visitation will be from 5 until 8 tonight at the funeral home.

Pallbearers will be Charles Abraham, Alex Habeeb, Dr. Mark Habeeb, Dr. Fred Habeeb Jr., Phillip Habeeb, Gregory Thomas, Doug Panzone and Luke Abney.

Honorary pallbearers will be Jack Demetree, Lee Thomas Jr., Chuck Abraham and David Abraham.

Memorials may be made to the United Way of West Central Mississippi; the YMCA; Polio Plus of Rotary International; Aphasia Hope Foundation, 1211 Washington St., Vicksburg, 39180; or St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church.