Natchez family continues crewing tradition despite loss
Published 12:11 am Sunday, October 19, 2014
NATCHEZ — It was a bittersweet Saturday morning for the crew of the Lady Jester, as they carried on the memory of longtime friend, John McCall.
Natchez resident McCall died in June, but his family continued their annual tradition by participating in the Great Mississippi River Balloon Race — which McCall has been a crewmember for since 1989.
Kim Thomas and Connie Chapin, McCall’s daughters, knew their father would want them to attend the race, and McCall’s wife, Eddy Kay McCall, joined her daughters on the special day.
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“We have been doing this as a family since 1989,” Thomas said. “It’s a family tradition for us.”
The tradition began when Thomas worked for Stephens & Hobdy Insurance Agency.
“We just showed up that morning for her to fly,” Chapin said. “I really did not want to get up at 5:30 a.m.”
Chapin said everyone attended the flight, including McCall.
“Over the years, our crew got bigger and bigger,” Chapin said. “We have had children since then, and now they help. It’s really a family affair.”
More than 30 crewmembers worked to set up the Lady Jester during Saturday’s race, keeping McCall in their thoughts.
“It’s a whole weekend,” Thomas said. “It consists of going to Stephens and Hobdy on Friday where everyone brings food and gathers together — That’s when I missed him the most, he was always there.”
It was hard without McCall, but smiles and memories kept the crew going, not to race for competition, but for fun.
The crew shared laughs when the family dog went inside the balloon during inflation.
John (McCall) would have loved that, Eddy said.
Eddy and McCall would have been married for 56 years in October.
“We went to Disney World for our 50th anniversary, a month after the balloon race,” Eddy said. “It tugs at your heart, knowing that he’s not here any longer. But this was a fun family.”
Thomas and Chapin said their balloon pilots, Robert and Sally Lupton, were like family.
Robert even attended McCall’s funeral.
“John (McCall) and I were close friends,” Lupton said. “We met in 1988 and whenever my wife and I flew, he was always the first to chase after us and be our co-pilot on the ground.”
Chapin said her father was a Christian man. This put Chapin at ease during the race, as she knew her father was watching over them from above.
The crew of the Lady Jester hosted a ceremony for McCall Saturday, in which 50 balloons were let go in his honor.