Balloon race director steps down after two decades

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 18, 2009

NATCHEZ — One behind the scenes change will take place before next year’s Great Mississippi River Balloon Race.

Laura Godfrey, executive director of the GMRBR will step down and pass the baton to current deputy director Babs Price.

“I have been able to do it for 20 plus years and it is simply someone else’s turn,” Godfrey said.

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Godfrey said during her tenure she has seen the festival grow exponentially. Under Godfrey’s leadership, the festival has grown from a two-day event to a three-day event by adding a Friday morning race, Friday night balloon glow and Friday entertainment.

She said the type of musical acts the festival is able to attract has also improved.

“Everything has changed in those years,” she said. “When I started we didn’t even have a Friday and we have gone from a really small musical festival to a really large musical festival.”

But Godfrey is quick to point out the she didn’t carry the load alone.

“I’m not going to take any of the credit for the way the balloon races have grown,” Godfrey said. “I have a fabulous, committed committee that really does the work and the (Natchez Historic Foundation) works around the clock on balloon race.

“It has been a huge group effort, not just me, that has made this the success that it is.”

With all the successes Godfrey has seen, she said there have also been a couple of rain out years that are disappointing.

But to stay on track, Godfrey said she and the rest of the committee and volunteers remain focused on the groups mission statement.

“The festival isn’t about (the committee), it is about jamming Natchez for an entire weekend,” Godfrey said. “That fills our restaurants, bars and hotel. That is our mission and we have been able to accomplish that.

“Before you could call and get a (hotel) reservation anytime, now you get put on a waiting list. Most people reserve their rooms for the next year’s before leaving this year’s (festival)”

Godfrey said while she has enjoyed her time as executive director she felt now was the right time to hand over her duties.

And Godfrey said she has found an able successor in Price.

“She has been the deputy director for the past few year and involved in other capacities before that,” Godfrey said of Price. “She knows the ropes.”

Price said she was nervous about taking on the job when first asked, but over time decided she was up for the challenge.

“It is a really big job that requires a lot of dedication and work,” Price said. “Laura has done that and now I will.”

Price began working on the balloon committee 16 years ago, working with sponsorships and coordinating the sponsor-pilot party. She stepped up her duties when she was named deputy director three years ago.

“When it comes to organizations, I’ve been involved in lots of them,” Price said. “But a time comes when you have to choose one thing to focus on and for me that one thing is and has been balloon race.

“It is a great thing for Natchez and I’m happy to do my part.”

Godfrey may but cutting her ropes from the executive directorship, but Price knows she can always seek out advice if needed.

“I told her she can’t leave,” Price said.

And after more than 20 years with the festival, Godfrey was happy to oblige.

“I’ll still be around helping with sponsorships and wherever I’m needed,” she said. “It is not really bittersweet for me because I’ll still be hanging around if anyone needs anything.

“I’m not moving out of town or anything.”