World-class oyster shucker is Oyster Festival grand marshal
by Larry S. Chowning
Middlesex County oyster shucker Deborah Pratt has been named grand marshal of the 54th annual Urbanna Oyster Festival.
Pratt has represented the United States four times in the World Oyster Shucking Championship in Ireland and finished second in the world in 1997.
She grew up in Middlesex and first learned to shuck oysters by watching her sister, Clementine Macon, another master oyster shucker. Since then, Pratt has represented the State of Virginia and the Urbanna Oyster Festival numerous times in the United States championships at St. Mary’s, Md.
Pratt is one of only two U.S. shuckers to ever place in the top three in the international competition, which she did in 1994 and 1997, both times in Galway, Ireland. The only other Virginian to place in the international competition was Middlesex’s Sara Hammond who finished third in 1984.
Urbanna Oyster Festival Foundation member Charles Bristow said that Pratt has represented Virginia and the United States “with style and class” at the international oyster shucking contests and various other competitions across the country.
“Deborah has been selected grand marshal because of what she has meant to the Urbanna Oyster Festival,” said Bristow. “She has been a great ambassador for the festival and Urbanna. We just felt that she deserved the honor.”
Pratt also was named honorary captain of the festival in 1995.
Pratt is an annual competitor at the Virginia Oyster Shucking Championship at the Urbanna Oyster Festival—a competition she has won numerous times. She normally “steals the show” by taking the microphone and interacting with the audience. She will compete again this year on Saturday, November 5, at 11 a.m. behind the Urbanna Firehouse.
“I want to thank the Oyster Festival Foundation for honoring me by naming me grand marshal, “ said Pratt. “I love to shuck oysters and I love to compete.”
Pratt is a professional shucker who shucks oysters during the oyster season at Walton’s Seafood in Urbanna. She has been featured in national and regional publications such as Southern Living, and a photo of her riding an oyster shell is being used by the State of Virginia to promote tourism.
Pratt lives in Jamaica and has three children and three grandchildren.