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Dreamer and difference maker

Arturo Barajas embodied 'Spirit of the Coast'

Accepting the Pat Santucci Spirit of the Coast award on her late husband’s behalf, Rachel Barajas was terrified and heartbroken — yet gratified to see her beloved Arturo’s accomplishments recognized.

“I wasn’t sure if I would even make it through the front door, much less walk in front of 600-plus people,” she admits. “But when the time came for me to walk up there, I had an overwhelming feeling of pride come over me.”

The Mississippi Gulf Coast Chamber of Commerce honored Arturo Barajas posthumously with the Pat Santucci award during its annual meeting on Feb. 18. According to his wife, he learned about the honor shortly before his death in January at age 42.

“I know he would have recognized the people that supported him through the years,” Rachel says. “He was a dreamer and had a lot of people that helped him bring those dreams to life.”

The award recognizes someone who has made significant contributions to the Coast business community, accounting for their ethical conduct, service, leadership and reputation. Arturo, the owner of Mosaic restaurant in Ocean Springs and publisher of PlayTheCoast, came to the Coast as an exchange student from Mexico City. Despite not being fluent in English, he worked double shifts in housekeeping, all the while reading and studying hotel administration manuals and casino department operations manuals.

Arturo went on to become a Leadership Gulf Coast graduate and serve on the Gulf Coast Chamber board and the Leadership Gulf Coast Board of Trustees, among his many other civic contributions .

“He was a gentleman who invested himself into this community by being involved in a host of organizations and events,” says Adele Lyons, chief executive officer for the Chamber. “He was thoughtful and kind and fun to be around.”

Chamber President Dorothy P. Wilson added, “He personfied what ‘One Coast’ means. He was passionate in his efforts to advance South Mississippi. He was a friend and business mentor to many, including me. I loved that he was both a dreamer and a doer. That’s an unusual combination.”

To Rachel, Arturo was simply her “Prince Charming” — “the kindest, most gentle man I’ve ever known.” On their third date, she already was certain she would marry him.

“He was supportive when he needed to be and pushed me when I was being stubborn,” she says. “He challenged me daily to step outside my comfort zone and experience the beauty of the world.”

Arturo was determined to bring color and diversity to the Coast he adored, Rachel adds, and she hopes he will be remembered for his courage and his abundant love.

“Arturo never met a stranger and was always willing to give a helping hand where needed,” she says. “He loved the Coast in all its beauty, but most of all he loved the people that make up this beautiful place.”