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Servant leader

Civic-minded arts advocate Peggy Sprabery is determined to make a difference

Photography by Brandi Stage Portraiture

Peggy Sprabery wants to be remembered for raising her hand and saying “yes.” 

Now 71, the wife, mother, former teacher and passionate arts advocate has built a legacy of involvement that speaks for itself. The extensive list of organizations to which she has said “yes” includes the Gulf Coast Symphony Orchestra Board of Directors (of which she was president for two terms), the Gulfport Salvation Army Board of Directors, the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art Board of Trustees, the Gulf Coast Arts Council, the Mississippi University for Women Alumni Association and Executive Council and a host of others. 

“Little did I know in 1989 that my blossoming love of music and the arts would lead me to ideas for events to support that passion,” says Sprabery,” who co-hosted the Barbecue Under the Oaks for 26 years and served as the event’s chairman for the first 12 years — one of many activities in which she has been instrumental. “I literally lived and breathed fundraisers for various arts-based organizations and was lucky enough to have a husband (Dr. Don Sprabery) who encouraged me every step of the way.”


Sprabery strives to make the most of each day because she knows better than most that tomorrow is never promised. At age 13, she was involved in a car accident that killed her mother and injured her whole family. 

“Sitting in the waiting room of a hospital that was out of town and not knowing where I was spending the night and who would pick me up the next day was a game changer,” Sprabery recalls. “It was the first time I experienced the vulnerability of life.” 

Tragedy struck again 13 years later when Sprabery’s oldest brother died at age 29. 

“These two experiences changed me and the way I approached life from then on,” she says. “I wanted to embrace each moment, to live with intention and joy.” 

Two years later, she bought a one-way ticket to the Virgin Islands with no job or place to live when she arrived. She worked at Frenchman’s Reef Resort in St. Thomas Virgin Islands for three-and-a-half years in the food and beverage department as a bartender and cocktail waitress. 

She went on to teach in Jackson and Long Beach public schools for seven-and-a-half years. Her own education includes a bachelor’s degree from Mississippi University for Women and master’s degree from Mississippi College. 

“I paid for my master’s degree with weekend jobs refinishing furniture, cleaning houses, working at a gift shop and antique fair while teaching through the week,” she recalls. 


Sprabery’s determination to make her life matter allowed her to create a legacy of leadership and community involvement. By stepping out and joining different groups, everything from Raw Oyster Marching Club and Tree House Yoga Studio to the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum and Beach Garden Society, she says, “I’ve exposed myself to the most wonderful people on the Coast.” 

“If you feel the desire to lead and make a difference, then act on it,” she says. “Be an empathetic, optimistic and energetic leader. You’ll work with some who might not like you or agree with you, but stay with it and be kind.” 

Lynn Frisby met Sprabery when they worked at the IP Casino Resort and Spa. The pair served together on the board for the Gulf Coast Symphony Orchestra, and they also participated in the American Heart Association Go Red for Women campaign. 

Frisby also recalls when Sprabery reached out to Molly O’Neill, a former columnist who wrote the book “One Big Table” — inviting her to Pass Christian to help with a fundraiser for the Gulfport Police Activities League. 

“Peggy selected recipes from (O’Neill’s) cookbook and enlisted the help of local restaurants and community members to make the goodies served at the dinner,” Frisby says. Sprabery also helped organize the Classical Musical Series, according to her friend, which consists of local artists who play at her home quarterly on a Sunday afternoon. Similarly, the Barbecue Under the Oaks, which Sprabery and her husband started over 30 years ago, allows restaurants and organizations to showcase their barbecue talents while the Symphony youth orchestra entertains guests. 

To Frisby, Sprabery exemplifies “the Starfish story.” In the tale, a man notices a boy walking along a beach and returning starfish to the water. He tells the boy that there are too many miles of beach, and too many stranded starfish, to make a difference. In reply, the boy picks up a starfish, places it in the surf and says, “I made a difference to that one.” 

“She is always trying to make a difference,” Frisby says, “whether it is one person or a group of people.” 

To every group and endeavor she’s involved in, Frisby adds, Sprabery brings a willingness to help others, kindness and love, patience and support, unwavering dedication and a fun attitude. 

“She will always be remembered for being a servant leader and helping so many,” Frisby says. “I hope to be remembered in the same way that Peggy is in our community.” 

Sprabery’s view of success has nothing to do with monetary gain. Instead, she defines it as the ability to hold her head high knowing that she’s done her part. 

“When asked what I am doing today, my answer is always, ‘I’m doing my best!’” she says. “My best — that’s it. Sometimes it’s imperfect and messy, but it’s my best!” 


Despite what she’s already achieved and experienced in her seven decades of life, Sprabery still has plenty of goals. In fact, just before the pandemic struck, she sat down to pen a bucket list. 

She has since crossed off several of the 18 items on that list, including experiencing a hayride, hiking in a national park, participating in a silent retreat and attending a rock concert (she saw the Rolling Stones). By the end of 2022, she intends to check off every item. 

Of all her interests and hobbies, Sprabery is most passionate about music and cooking. 

“Music affects every cell in my body, and I feel it deeply in my heart,” she says. “Cooking is my language of love, and I want everyone who tastes my food to feel that love. It might not always be the best, but be assured it will be prepared with joy and gratitude.” 

Sprabery doesn’t give much thought to how people perceive her, as she can’t control that. However, among her family and friends, she wants to be known for her joy and laughter, her love of nature and music, her silliness, exuberance and pranks, like “hiding and scaring my family and friends at any opportunity.” 

“(I want them to remember) how I still play hide-and-go-seek most every day, how I love to connect with cashiers at stores and the tellers at the bank,” she says. “Some of those conversations have led to my inviting them to get married in our front yard or in our living room!” 

In her generosity and gregariousness, Sprabery is following the example of her dad, Bill Peden, who loved the Coast and did everything he could to make it better. He taught her that not only is the proverbial glass half full, it’s refillable — a lesson Sprabery has taken deeply to heart. 

“I’m most proud of learning how to begin again under every circumstance and to be able to forgive myself,” she says. “It’s a gift and a blessing to know that no matter what, I can start over.”


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