Obituary of Bernice 'Bea' Higgins: Harry Caray's 'Gal Friday'
This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 6, 2013 - Bernice E. “Bea” Higgins loved to produce gridiron shows, coordinate golf tournaments and arrange gourmet dinners, but many people will remember her best as the longtime assistant to Harry Caray, one of the most colorful announcers baseball has ever known.
Mrs. Higgins, 90 years old, died Nov. 5, 2013, at St. Luke’s Hospital in Chesterfield after suffering complications from a stroke.
A memorial Mass will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 9, at the Church of the Ascension Chesterfield “The Little Church.” A celebratory lunch will be held at noon in the Parish Hall.
Mrs. Higgins began her professional career in the advertising field at Ruthrauff & Ryan in the early 1940s after graduating from Central High School and then a secretarial school. She was a member of the Women’s Advertising Club where she served as a scriptwriter, singer and actress in the club’s popular gridiron shows that poked fun at local advertisers, government officials and civic leaders.
When the ad agency won the Busch Beer account that sponsored the Cardinals broadcast team, Mrs. Higgins took over the task of handling the mail for Gabby Street, Joe Garagiola and a newcomer named Harry Caray. As Caray’s popularity grew, so did his mail. Higgins became his full-time personal secretary, a position she held until 1968.
At the time of Caray’s death in 1998, the late John McGuire, then a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, interviewed Mrs. Higgins about her favorite Caray stories.
In his early years with the team Caray did not travel with the team on road games. Instead, McGuire wrote, he used “game information off a Western Union ticker, as he sat in an office at the Paul Brown Building. You can bet Harry was quite good at embellishing the bare-bones information off the telegraph ticker. (Mrs. HIggins) even watched as Caray would nearly fall out of his chair as he recreated a home run call.”
It was 45 years ago this week that Mr. Caray was critically injured in a car accident. That accident generated bags full of mail for Mrs. Higgins from baseball fans, celebrities and personalities from around the world.
Mrs. Higgins often told stories about Caray’s feisty nature and how he didn’t like getting mail from those who didn’t like his broadcasting or him, for that matter. She and Caray had differing opinions as to how to respond. Caray wanted to respond in kind. Mrs. Higgins would always try to talk him out of it and succeeded most of the time.
Caray’s colorful announcing style brought the game to life for Cardinal fans. In an interview with Michael Hirsley, sports media writer for the Chicago Tribune, Mrs. Higgins remembered the many letters Caray received “from blind people saying they could almost see the game through his voice.”
After Caray’s departure to Chicago, Mrs. Higgins became the membership secretary and social chair at the St. Louis Club, retiring in 1993. She was a long-time member of Norwood Hills Country Club; a member of the advisory staff at St. Louis Golf Magazine; coordinator of the 1972 Greater St. Louis Golf Classic; and associate director of the 1973 St. Louis Children’s Hospital Golf Classic.
She was a volunteer for the Alzheimer’s Association; contributed many handmade knitted items to Nurses for Newborns; was an active parishioner at St. Ann’s in Normandy and then Ascension Church in Chesterfield. She delighted family and friends with her original holiday card designs every year.
Mrs. Higgins was preceded in death by her husband, John F. Higgins Jr., and her grandchild, Amy Higgins. Surviving are her sons John Higgins of Normandy and Jim Higgins of St. Ann, and her daughters, Nancy Higgins of Shrewsbury and Patti (Steve) Lewis of Chesterfield, and three grandchildren, Derek Lewis, and Sarah and Katie Higgins.
Mrs. Higgins donated her body to the Saint Louis University School of Medicine.