By Kelly Baughman
In every community there are people who become icons. Legends whose personalities live on long after they are gone. Perdido Key has had its share of those colorful characters, but none quite as unique as Harriet Hatch. Hatch passed away on July 11th at the age of 81, and the entire community has felt the loss of this one of a kind life of the party.
Better known to the locals as “Hurricane” Harriet, Hatch was, as her infamous catchphrase suggested, simply “Marvelous”. With her renowned southern style that always included a fabulous hat and signature dance moves that were hard to miss on any floor her feet graced, Hurricane Harriet made a name for herself with her no non-sense attitude, infectious laugh, and big heart that she secretly hid beneath it all.
Born in Birmingham, Alabama, Hurricane Harriet attended the University of Alabama where she was a member of the Delta Delta Delta sorority. Once crowned Miss Alabama, Harriet was the picture of style, elegance, and grace.
Upon her retirement and move to Perdido Key in 1995, Harriet made a name for herself in the community. An avid golfer, card player, book club member, member of the Red Hat Society, and life of the party, Hurricane Harriet lived her life to the fullest.
Never one to shy away from pushing the envelope, Hurricane Harriet took first place at the Hub Stacey’s Annual Halloween Costume Contest in 2013 dressed as Miley Cyrus, complete with top knots, foam finger, and daring lingerie. “I’ll never forget the moment she walked in that night. There were some pretty good costumes there, but when Harriet walked in….everyone knew the contest was over,” said local, Kayla Stanford.
Fellow local Chris Williams concurred, adding, “I don’t know many 70 something year olds that could or would pull that off, but Harriet sure did. She was the star of the show that night.”
Known for her cunning wit and even sharper tongue, Hurricane Harriet would stop you dead in your tracks if she didn’t like the words coming out of your mouth. “She definitely didn’t take anything from anybody, and she was the definition of ‘ain’t nobody got time for that’. She may not have cared about remembering your name, but she did want to drag you out on the dance floor,” longtime Innerarity Point resident Jamie Ferguson said.
But behind her devil may care attitude and choice words said through a thick southern drawl was a sweet lady who befriended almost everyone who took the time to genuinely chat with her and make her feel welcome. A loveable character who loved those in her community, Harriet supported the island she loved every chance she got.
Randy Cudd of Perdido Key said, “Hurricane Harriet was a big part of the fabric of our community. She will be missed but NEVER forgotten. Everyone has a Harriet story I have several. We all loved her for who she was… quinine…a real person with no pretenses. I will only say that if you pissed her off you better be ready to deal with it. Her “chicken dance” is world famous. Harriet, I am gonna miss you gal. My heart hurts.”
Local musician and music producer Nick Biebricher said of the first time he met Harriet, “She kept calling me John. When I told her my name wasn’t John, she replied, ‘Well, whatever the hell your name is.’ I already miss that old gal. It’s characters like Harriet that make the Key such a special place to live.”
A Celebration of Life was held at the Purple Parrot Tiki Bar on July 14th after Harriet’s official funeral so that all those who knew her in the community could come out and say goodbye to a true area legend. Hundreds showed up, many of them dressed in Kentucky Derby style hats to honor the late, great Hurricane Harriet.
“We’ve had a drink on our menu named after her for years, and it was great to see people raising their glasses and doing her signature dance moves in her memory that day,” Purple Parrot Tiki Bar owner Chris Mull said. “She would’ve loved seeing all the people who came out to honor her.”
Many drove from miles around to honor their late friend, and while the occasion for the gathering was sad, those who came did what Harriet would’ve done; had a good time.
A lover, a fighter, a dancer who could challenge anyone to a duel, and the life of the party, Hurricane Harriet will forever live in the hearts and memories of those in the community who knew her.
I personally knew Hurricane Harriet, and experienced her both in “party mode” and behind closed doors. There was never a place with music playing that she didn’t walk into without a smile on her face, ready to hit the dance floor. I loved watching her dominate those that feared her or those who didn’t know any better than to talk back. It was like watching a spider catch its prey in a web. It was art. It was carnal nature. But five seconds later, she could turn it around and have the same person holding her hands as she taught them her “crane dance”.
I spent time with her in her home where she always welcomed me with open arms. I was fascinated at how she could turn from the craziest party animal at night into the classiest of southern debutants by day, and respected her for being able to play both sides of life.
Outside of Roger McNew with his polka dotted row boat and various array of thong bathing suits, I can’t think of a more iconic character in Perdido Key than Hurricane Harriet. Thanks for the memories, Harriet. The people of Perdido Key will never forget you.