Portsmouth, NC Community Leaders

Jessie Lee Babb Dominique shares memories of her life in the community of Portsmouth with Carteret County historian Rodney Kemp on the Back Porch Stage at Waterfowl Weekend 2003.

A Tribute to the Life of Jessie Lee Babb Dominique

Written and Presented by Mr. Rodney Kemp at the Celebration of her Life
August 11, 2005
Ann Street Methodist Church, Beaufort, NC

About two years ago, Lee came up to me at the North Carolina Seafood Festival and said she had two requests she wanted me to promise I would do. With that bony index finger pointed at me with a slight crook in it for emphasis, she said she wanted me to speak at a Portsmouth Homecoming and also she wanted me to do her eulogy. I did the former two Springs ago, but I have loathed the day I would have to do the latter.

However, we are here today to celebrate the life and resurrection of Jessie Lee Babb Dominique. Knowing my future assignment I would often joke with Lee on how she was feeling and should I start my preparation. Little did I know her demise would happen in such a sudden and violent manner. You – like me – do not fully understand God’s plan. However, I am certain Jessie Lee Babb Dominique maintained her faithfulness to Him to the very end. We should all be reminded of her faithfulness today.

My words today will be more in the form of memories and reflections than gloom and sadness.

This is how Lee would want it to be.

My words today will be more a celebration of life rather than remorsefulness.

This is how Lee would want it to be.

My words today will be of resurrection rather than the “sting” of earthly death.

Lee would – most certainly – want it to be this way!

I will tell you at this time, I will fall way short of properly honoring Jessie Lee Babb Dominique. Her influence on each of us here today cannot be adequately expressed by Rodney Kemp. However, I shall humbly proceed to honor one of my dear acquaintances and friends.

I formally met Lee about 16 years ago when I did a story-telling session for this church. She came up to me afterwards, introduced herself and told me that she wanted to talk to me about Portsmouth. Little did I know at that first meeting that this “little” talk about Portsmouth would turn into a “big” talk that lasted for 16 years. That was Lee’s zeal for telling the Portsmouth story. There are a lot of you here today that benefited – as I did – from that zeal and that was where the love for her came.

In the next 16 years, she and I did probably 25 programs together on Portsmouth. My presentations of the history did not vary much each time. Lee’s part of the program however was rarely the same. I studied this situation and realized a remarkable truism about Lee’s manner of presenting Portsmouth history. Whereas my presentation was basically researched and documented history, Lee’s was the telling of “people history.” She reflected on the lives of the people she grew up with on Portsmouth. Each session – you see – would bring back memories of these people and she would express it in her special loving manner.

I can remember in my class she would share a particular “people history” gem with us, and as her eyes moistened and her voice trembled, we could all feel and experience the love she felt.


Her interpretation and presentation was a unique approach for me to observe. I studied Lee and how she told this “people history” and began to appreciate and love the community she represented.

This community called Portsmouth.

Her world was Portsmouth, her life was Portsmouth, her success was Portsmouth. She never forgot: 1) who she was, 2) where she came from and – most importantly – 3) where she was going. All of us today need to take these three lessons to heart that Jessie Lee Babb Dominique taught us.

From her recollections of growing up on Portsmouth, I have formulated in my mind a typical summer day for Lee around the age of nine on Portsmouth. It goes like this:

She awakens around 6:00 AM at the smell of freshly cooked biscuits wafting up from the downstairs kitchen. She stretches comfortably as her eventful day develops before her mind’s eye.

She leaves this house at 7:15 AM – glances to her right at the church – as she always does – as if to reassure herself that “Rock” of her faith was still present and strong.

Joe Abbott passes by the picket fence – wearing his full length white apron – and she greets him lovingly by calling him “Maw;” a reference obviously to the ever-present apron. Uncle Joe is on his way to cook at the hunting camp.

Next is a stop at Doctor’s Creek to see what Henry Pigott was about this fine day. He asks Lee about her parakeets and says he is going to Ocracoke. She reflects upon what it must be like at that exciting settlement across the inlet.

It’s baking day at Miss. Hub’s house. Baking day with Miss Hub is only the bait, Lee realizes. She knows that it is really mathematics day as she excitedly learns her fractions and percentages and measurements under the guise of helping Miss Hub with her baking.

Dinner finds her home again enjoying the conversation of her Momma, sister Marian Gray, and her Aunt Alma. They have prepared the meal all morning. This evening they will sit on the porch and knit basketball nets. Their talk is of Lee’s father who is off in the Service.

Back to Miss Annie’s and the Post Office to “call up the mail.” Lee helps; it’s important. People smile when they get a letter. She thinks that in the fall the catalogues will come. Christmas – a long way off – but she can think about the warm feelings it brings to all in the community.

Supper is concluded. Lee stands on the porch looking towards the path. There she is:
Aunt Lizzie! Lee runs to her, leaps into her arms and gets that loving hug from Lizzie that makes a child feel so special and important.

Lee said no one she was ever around smelled better than Lizzie.
Did I mention that Lizzie was a person of “color” – as were her brother Henry and Uncle Joe.
There was no difference in skin color in Lee’s world.
Come to think of it, there is no difference in God’s Kingdom either.

Nighttime and Tom Bragg comes to the house to court Aunt Alma. He plays with Lee and finally takes her upstairs and tucks her in bed for the evening. She calls him her “Paw.” She loves him and he loves her.

A full day for a nine year old and the prospects of more of the same tomorrow sweetens her dreams.

Portsmouth was her world.

Portsmouth was Jessie Lee Babb Dominique and she was Portsmouth. Ghost town – never! A living place of glorious memories of a lifestyle that was simple and punctuated with genuine love, yes forever!

To Lee there was not a better place on this earth. Lee, I tend to agree with you.

At her passing is the challenge to all of us here today to keep Portsmouth alive and thriving. Those that experienced Portsmouth first hand are dwindling to a precious few. Lee’s leaving reminds us of that fact.

Jessie Lee Babb Dominique, your zeal has grasped us. We know who you were; we know where you came from, and we know where you have gone. We pledge today in your honor to keep the heritage of Portsmouth alive and pass it on to the next generation of torch bearers. Jessie Lee Babb Dominique, this is our challenge and our promise.

Heaven is alive today as we speak. It is alive with a Portsmouth Homecoming organized by – you guessed it – Lee! They are all there, those she loved and those that loved her. They are laughing and celebrating their eternity in Jesus loving care. It don’t get no better than this heaven! Yet, Portsmouth was a good second.

Good bye, Jessie Lee Babb Dominique. We will see you on God’s next tide.

Amen and Amen.

Down East Community Tour
Core Sound Waterfowl Museum