STARKVILLE — In a tree-covered yard off Williams Road, friends and family of the late Ruth Ann Bishop gathered around a table Monday morning and sat in stunned silence.
The remains of Bishop”s home stood nearby and the smell of charred wood hung in the air, more than 36 hours after fire ravaged the structure and left Bishop dead inside. The Mississippi Delta native was 58 years old.
“It really hasn”t sunk in yet,” said Bishop”s cousin, Marcus Bush, as he stared solemnly at the burnt-out house.
The community along Williams and Mobley roads, located just south of Starkville in Oktibbeha County, has been stunned by Bishop”s death.
“It”s very hard,” said Marion Hill, another of Bishop”s cousins, who lives next door. “Everybody down here is pretty shocked.”
Family and friends remember Bishop as a kind-hearted woman who would go out of her way to help others.
“She was a sweet lady,” Bush said. “She opened her home up to any and everybody. If she cooked and you didn”t eat, she was offended.”
Bishop also was an avid fisherman and had fixed a large fish dinner for friends and relatives Saturday before the fire, Hill said. “She was friendly to everybody,” Hill said. “She was good to all the neighbors, and she never met a stranger.”
Bush said he would miss Bishop”s smile the most.
“If you were down, she would lift you up,” Bush said.
About a mile away, one of Bishop”s longtime friends, Dorothy Bishop, who is unrelated, said Monday she was saddened deeply when she heard about the fire Saturday night. Dorothy Bishop said she received a phone call about the blaze and was ready to offer Ruth Bishop, to whom she referred as “Mae,” a place to sleep at her home on Johnson Drive. Then Dorothy Bishop received a second phone call and learned her friend had died in the blaze. An autopsy is scheduled to take place today.
“This community is saddened because everybody loved her,” Dorothy Bishop said. “Everybody loved Mae.”
During the November elections, the two Bishops gave Oktibbeha County residents rides to the courthouse so they could register to vote. The pair also campaigned actively for Sixteenth District Circuit Court judicial candidates Nebra Porter and William Starks.
“She drove me around all day on election day,” Dorothy Bishop said. “She told me, ”Just tell me what I can do to help out.” That”s the way she was.”
While many remembered Ruth Bishop as a member of Bethel Missionary Baptist Church and as a caring community member, she also was known as the mother of Willie “Fly” Manning, who was convicted of murder for the deaths of four people in Oktibbeha County in the 1990s. During Manning”s trials, Dorothy Bishop recalls comforting her friend often and encouraging her to stay strong.
“I said, ”Mae, I”d do anything for you,” because I knew she would do anything for me,” Dorothy Bishop said. “She was good to this community. She was better than anybody else out here.”
The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
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