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By the time Trent was ready to start the seventh grade, his family had moved to Pascagoula, where his father got a job as a pipe fitter in the shipyard. Trent was too small for football, so he played tuba in the band. He had such a space between his front teeth that he was nicknamed "Gap." But he was smart and friendly, discreetly helping classmates with homework and lavishing attention on kids like himself who weren't athletic or attractive. "And you know what?" he once told Time. "Turns out we were the majority."
In high school, Lott was elected student-body president, as well as most popular, most likely to succeed, most polite and neatest. Only his close friends knew of the trouble he faced at home. His parents quarreled constantly--about the money his father spent on bourbon and cigarettes, the nights away from home and his mother's suspicions that Chester Sr. was seeing other women. Young Trent often had to act as a mediator. He recalls, "It made me grow up at an early age." Friends say it also gave him traits common among the children of alcoholics: a desire to avoid touchy issues and disagreements and to try to make everyone happy.
Iona Lott taught school, and the kids who sat in her classes and visited her home say they can see in Trent her cheerful toughness and her obsessive tidiness. Lott's wife, the former Tricia Thompson, was the oldest of six children and says she "didn't keep house the way Trent was used to." Even in Washington, she once said with a shrug, he vacuums the house "because he doesn't like the way I do it." Lott also re-irons his shirts to get rid of the little wrinkles they pick up on the way back from the cleaners.
The Pascagoula in which Trent Lott grew up was settled by immigrants from France, Spain, Italy, Lebanon and Yugoslavia. But in Lott's youth, as now, blacks numbered only about 18% of the area's population, and whites didn't feel as threatened as they did in the black-majority counties of the Mississippi Delta. While most neighborhoods were segregated, the largest black precinct was smack in the middle of town, and the races mixed easily on the streets and in factories, where jobs were usually available to all. Lott recalls that "race just wasn't that big an issue for me growing up."
That situation changed dramatically when Lott attended the University of Mississippi. He arrived in 1959 and had become the leader of the interfraternity council by September 1962, when armed federal marshals arrived to install James Meredith as the university's first black student. Lott was not among the rioters who resisted the marshals or among the smaller group of students who favored integration. His main concern, he said, was keeping his fraternity brothers away from the violence. In a 1997 interview with Time, Lott said, "Yes, you could say I favored segregation then. I don't now."