People in St. Lawrence are remembering Lanier Phillips who spent decades telling the story of how the small Newfoundland town altered his life and set him on a lifelong journey of fighting racial barriers.

"Everyone feels here in St. Lawrence that they lost a family member, you know?" Mayor Wayde Rowsell said.

Phillips passed away Monday in Mississippi 70 years after he was saved from a sinking U.S. Navy ship.

People in St. Lawrence treated him the same as the white sailors they rescued — a life-changing experience for Phillips.

"This man just lifted me up from the ground and told another Newfoundlander to walk him around, and it was like restoring life to me, that here is a man, a white man, who is trying to help me," Phillips said.

Although in poor health, he travelled to Newfoundland in February to take part in ceremonies marking the 70th anniversary of the Pollux-Truxtun disaster, which claimed the lives of 203 men.

His funeral service will take place in his hometown of Lithonia, Ga.

People in St. Lawrence are talking about a memorial service in Newfoundland to pay tribute to their friend.

"When he was here there were always people around him," said Levi Pike, one of the local men who helped rescue Pollux and Truxtun sailors in 1942.

"People were so grateful and glad to be able to see him and talk to him. It was marvellous."