The First Annual Bob Wiley Boat Parade will take place Saturday as one of the featured highlights of the First Rockin’ on the River Festival. The parade will begin at 5 p.m. Saturday at J.P. Coleman State Park.
It has been billed as being a “patriotic boat parade like no other” by event organizers. Any type of boat is welcome to join the parade in honor of “Captain Bob Wiley.” All boat captains have to do is to show their crews’ patriotism by decorating their boats in red, white and blue. The Rockin’ on the River Festival is a salute to veterans for Armed Forces Day, as well as a celebration of Mississippi’s Bicentennial.
The decision to add Wiley’s name to the parade as a memorial event was an inspired one, said event organizer Lee Ann Robertson.
“Bob was such a nice guy. He was the kind of person who would help anyone with anything,” said Robertson.
It was said that Wiley had a love of the outdoors and being on the water that likely began with his 1960s childhood summers spent on his family’s houseboat on Pickwick Lake.
Robertson said Wiley’s family was the second family to own a houseboat at Pickwick. He graduated from Mississippi State University and joined the family business, Comfort Engineering, married Debbie Smith Wiley and settled in Tupelo. He rebuilt his first pontoon boat and raised his three children, Matt, Katherine and Preston to grow up as he did — spending weekends and summers at Pickwick.
Born in Tupelo, July 30, 1956, Wiley passed away on Labor Day weekend, on his boat, Sept. 6, 2015, at Eastport Marina on Pickwick Lake, Iuka.
Robertson said he loved Eastport and always wanted to do something to promote it. He talked about it so much that it began something they joked about. Robertson said Wiley was known as the “Ambassador of Eastport.” The upcoming festival was originally planned to be held at Eastport, but has grown in such large proportions, that it is now being held at J.P. Coleman State Park.
When the decision was made to name the boat parade as a memorial event to to Wiley, Robertson said she first asked his widow.
“She [Wiley’s widow] cried when I asked her. She said, ‘Bob would love that,’” said Robertson.
Wiley’s family and the Sundaze Crew will lead the parade as Grand Marshals of the inaugural event.
Directions for boaters who would like to participate in the parade:
Boaters will gather at two places on the river for the parade. Eastport, Millcreek, Bear Creek and Alabama boaters will line up at Eastport from 3 to 4 p.m.
If a boater is coming from Pickwick Lake, Grand Harbor Condominiums and Marina, Pickwick Landing State Park, Aqua Yacht Harbor Marina or the Tennessee–Tombigbee Waterway, they will line up at the Pickwick Waterfalls from 3 to 4 p.m.
Both groups will arrive at the mouth of J.P. Coleman State Park and merge at 5 p.m.
Bob Wiley’s family and the Sundaze Crew will lead the boat parade from Eastport to J.P. Coleman State Park. The Waterfalls group will follow the last Eastport parade boat into Indian Creek and J.P. Coleman State Park for the official start of the parade. There will be a "Boaters Only" party. Prizes and awards will be given for the best decorated, most spirited boat and crew, most patriotic, etc.
(For more information, to make donations, or food vendor sign up, call Sandra Medlin at 662-423-8638 or Lee Ann Robertson at 662-279-0538, or visit the webpage at rockinontheriverfest.com or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)