Leaving a legacy: Beloved Vicksburg chef passes away

Published 11:16 am Friday, December 29, 2023

The Vicksburg community is mourning the loss of an icon of the restaurant business and a beloved mother, friend, and coworker, following the passing of Walnut Hills chef Herdcine Williams.

Walnut Hills owner Joyce Clingan posted a heartfelt message to social media Friday morning and told The Post that, for now, it is her message to the many people who knew and loved Williams and her world-famous fried chicken.

“For the first time in 28 years, this year, Herdcine Williams and I did not share the kitchen at 5:30 a.m. in the morning of Christmas week,” she wrote on Facebook. “My friend and my employee has been very sick for a number of weeks and could not overcome pneumonia.  Miss Herdcine Williams passed away at her home yesterday (Thurs., Dec. 28) morning with her children at her bedside.”

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Clingan went on to give a brief glimpse at the legacy Williams leaves behind.

“There are many stories to be repeated and laughed about and cried about, but she will be remembered as the young woman who was the soul of the Walnut Hills kitchen. Her career began with Mrs. McKay at the Old Southern Tea Room as a dishwasher. And from there Herdcine was encouraged to learn to cook. She in (turn) has trained others in the Walnut Hills kitchen to continue the tradition of good Southern food. Her wish was to continue the legacy that she was a major part (of)  here at our little house on the hill.”

As news of Williams’ passing has spread, others in Vicksburg’s family of restaurants have spoken out about what she meant to both the profession and to the people who make up the industry and community.

“When a legend in our community passes we all know and feel the loss,” Main Street Market Cafe owner Sally Bullard said. “Herdicine the one and only…she doesn’t need an introduction. We all know and love her. She was the heart of the house.”

Bullard in a post to Facebook recalled the beginning of her own career in restaurants and the impact Williams had on her life.

“I started my restaurant life at Walnut Hills at 18,” she wrote. “(Wiliams) was a BOSS! She knew everyone and everything. What a (role) model. The Main Street Cafe team and my family extend our deepest condolence to the Walnut Hills team and Herdcine’s family.”

Williams has been chief cook at Walnut Hills for more than 30 years and is the second generation of her family to play a key role in the popular dining spot. 

According to the restaurant’s official website, “Herdcine’s mother, the late Ms. Alma Robinson, made the wonderful salads and slaw every day until she retired at age 70. Herdcine’s son, Xavier, has been serving this delicious food for over 15 years, marking the third generation of the Williams family to grace our staff.”

In April of 2021, Clingan recalled for The Post a story that highlights the famous fried chicken Williams would become known for making at her establishment.

“I remember a gentleman from California came to Vicksburg and ate with us, and when he got back to California, he called Herdcine and wanted her to move there and open a fried chicken place,” she said.

Friday morning, Clingan told The Post she and Williams’ family are in the midst of making funeral arrangements, which she added will be updated and released as they are finalized.

“Arrangements are incomplete at this time,” she said. “Her family appreciates your care, love and prayers.”