Columbus gathers to mourn, celebrate Pratt

May 3, 2013 11:35:56 AM

Sarah Fowler - [email protected]


Among the many roles Mike Pratt performed in his 44 years, was that of a Navy Seabee. 


It was fitting, then, that the "Seabees Prayer" would be part of the memorial service for Pratt, the city's public works director, who died Saturday. 


"Lord, stand beside the men who build, And give them courage, strength and skill; O grant them peace of heart and mind, And comfort loved ones left behind; Lord hear our prayer for all Seabees Where ere they be, on land or sea." 


With the Seabees Prayer, family, friends, and coworkers said goodbye to Public Works Director Mike Pratt on Thursday morning. 


A crowd of about 250 people filed into the Trotter Convention Center and took time to remember the man who was always willing to lend a helping hand. In keeping with his down-to-earth persona, he was dressed in his ever-present baseball cap and sunglasses in the open-casket memorial service. 


Pratt, 44, died Saturday in his Third Avenue apartment after a training exercise with the Columbus Police Academy Auxiliary Class. He is survived by his wife, Kim and sons Ryan and Stephen. 


On Thursday, those who have worked with Pratt since he first began as public works director in 2008 learned more about the quiet man they had come to love and respect. 


Pratt was born in 1969 in Iowa City, Iowa. His family moved to Estherville, Iowa, when he was a child. In high school, Pratt was a four-year letterman in cross country, baseball and basketball. At the age of 17, he was a member of an American cross-country team that competed in the Hyde Park Marathon in London, where he placed 113th out of 10,000 competitors. 


After high school, he joined the United States Navy and met his wife, Kim, who was also in the Navy. During Thursday's service, First Baptist Church minister Dr. Shawn Parker revealed that Kim only agreed to go out with Mike after he handcuffed himself to her for more than two hours. The two eventually married and were married for 22 years at the time of his death. 


Those who knew Pratt knew that his sons were the pride and joy of his life. Both followed in their father's footsteps and played baseball in high school. His oldest son, Ryan, now plays baseball in college. His youngest son, Stephen, will graduate from high school in three weeks. 


His family was living in Tennessee when Pratt was offered the job of public works director. Instead of uprooting his children from school, he made the commute home each weekend to see his family. 


Delivering Pratt's eulogy, Mayor Robert Smith offered words of comfort to Pratt's family. 


"I pray that the Lord will comfort you and bring peace and understanding during this difficult time. We are honored to have known and worked with Mike," he said. 


Quoting Thomas Jefferson, Smith said Pratt's death is a loss to all of the citizens of Columbus. 


"Thomas Jefferson said,' I would rather light a candle from another's candle rather than curse darkness. For in doing so, I am adding to the light of the world by not detracting from the other light.' With the passing of Mike Pratt, the city of Columbus lost an excellent employee and it lost a friend. Mike's candle has shown brightly and has enriched our city. May his light continue to shine even though our departed friend speaks no longer. Nevertheless, he is heard in the stillness of our hearts. Earth has no sorrow that Heaven cannot heal." 


As a slide-show of photos of Mike with his children, his wife and his dogs flashed on screen, Parker spoke of the man who was a "bona-fide Mr. Fix It." 


"He was a the first one on the job to roll up his sleeves and say, 'Let's do something about it.' Kim shared with me that on numerous occasions, she would call him because there was a problem at home in Memphis and he would be here in Columbus and she would call him and say, 'There's a problem, what do I need to do?' and so literally, over the telephone, he would give her clear directions about what to do in order to fix the problem." 


Perhaps one of the most memorable moments is the time that Mike gave Kim step-by-step instructions on how to install a new starter in her car over the phone. 


"Now that's a tribute not only to Mike but to Kim as well," Parker said, eliciting a laugh from the crowd. "That gives you an idea on the kind of guy Mike was. He was a Mr. Fix It." 


"A few things that I think we can say in celebration of his life today is, first and maybe foremost in our minds here in Columbus, Michael Pratt was a public servant. He was a doer and not a talker. He was a quiet man, as a general rule. He didn't necessarily use a lot of words. 


"Whenever there was a need here in Columbus he was the first one out on the scene. He was very selfless in his leadership. He was a leader among servants. There's a lot to be said about a person who Is a leader among servants. It takes a very special person to be a leader among servants. Mike was just that." 


As Parker spoke of their former boss, several city workers were seen wiping tears from their eyes. 


In a final goodbye, members of the honor guard from the Columbus Police Department and Columbus Fire and Rescue marched in and raised their hands in salute of their friend. A somber silence fell over the crowd as they watched the honor guard remove the flag from Pratt's casket and fold it with military precision. As Chief of Police Selvain McQueen presented the flag to Kim, who was flanked on either side by her sons, he whispered words that echoed through the room saying, "He will be missed." 


A Mike Pratt Memorial Fund has been set up at local branches of BancorpSouth as a scholarship fund for his sons. 


During this weekend's Market Street Festival, stickers will be available with a logo of Pratt's trademark baseball hat and sunglasses with the words, "Columbus Remembers Mike Pratt."

Sarah Fowler covered crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.