Tuesday’s parade will be end of era for Holmes

This year’s Gulf Coast Carnival Association parade, billed as “The Ride of Your Life,” will actually be the last ride for longtime parade chairman Bill Holmes.

Holmes, who has chaired the parade for 24 of his 26 volunteer years with GCCA, is hoping the parade goes off without people even thinking of the chairman, who has worked with carnival leaders for months to make sure the 100-unit procession moves without a hitch. The procession begins rolling through downtown Biloxi at 1 p.m. Tuesday.

“We’re going to be blessed with great weather, and it’s going to be an outstanding parade,” said Holmes, who will be stepping away from his second career in two years. Just two and a half years ago, he retired from running the Coast Coliseum after a 38-year career.

Helping organize the annual parade is not unlike preparing for a concert or festival, with months of planning and having contingency plans in place.

“It’s a matter of coordinating details to put on a good show, a good event, where everyone enjoys themselves in a safe environment,” Holmes said, noting that safety has been the biggest advancement in his years with Gulf Coast Carnival.

“When I took over we still had the pole carriers,” he said. “We had to hire all of these young high school students to carry poles alongside the floats. It became a safety issue until the city bought barricades to line the route. Up until then, you would have little ones running into the street to pick up beads, and the float drivers can’t see when someone gets under those big wheels. So the barricades made it a lot safer.”

But barricades are only part of the story. The parade chairman also has to be prepared for any eventuality. A “tire truck” with mechanics and tools to repair flat tires is in the parade, along with a “welding truck,” which would help repair any of the steel tongues that connect the float with the towing vehicle.

Medical issues and injuries also are expected. “We’ve had float riders who have had seizures, or someone passes out because they’ve had too much to drink,” Holmes said. “One year, we had someone on a float who tried to lean over and kiss someone. She went straight over the side of the float, like a torpedo, and hit the pavement head first. That stopped the parade.”

The keys to a successful parade? “It has to be a slow roll,” Holmes said, “and you don’t want to have a lot of gaps, where people think the parade’s over. You have to tighten up those gaps, and, of course, the paramount responsibility is the safety of the public and the float riders.”

Holmes admits that watching concerts or parades from the sidelines can be difficult for him.

“I was always a stickler for detail, so I have to be careful to not be critical of the new millennials,” Holmes said. “You like things to be just right, but as I’ve said so many times of late, you have to give up so some of the younger people can step forward and shine. And that’s where I’m at: At 72, it’s time to let the young people in the organization step forward and take the reins.

“I just want to want say thank you to everyone who has worked so hard to make carnival such a success, and to the public for coming out and having a good time every year. It’s been a great run.”
See the Mardi Gras safety tips and traffic plan handout
Safety: Before, during and after the parade


News and notes: Neptune images, weekly report, holiday office closings

Neptune parade images:  The Krewe of Neptune rolled downtown on Saturday evening with nearly 70 units.  To see images from the parade, click here.

The week that was:  If you want to get behind-the-scenes details on last week’s activity from the Biloxi Fire, Police and Community Development departments or look over a report from the city’s Engineering Department on the status major projects, check out our weekly review.  To see the reports, click here.   

Mardi Gras schedule: Non-emergency municipal offices in Biloxi will be closed Tuesday for Mardi Gras.