Riddle, the widow of Mack Riddle (for whom the annual parade is named), is going to be this year’s grand marshal of the Kingsport event.
“I’m not grand marshal material,” Mamie told the Times-News. “All I know about the parade is working behind the scenes with my husband.”
Of course, Mamie may be the only one who thinks she’s not worthy of the honor. When Kingsport Chamber of Commerce officials were planning this year’s parade, Mamie’s name came up, and they instantly decided she should serve as grand marshal.
Mamie thought they were crazy.
“I’m not well-known and haven’t done anything but worked with Mack behind the scenes. I didn’t think I was qualified,” she said. “So many other people could have been better.”
Chamber officials believe otherwise and told the Times-News they’re thrilled to have Mamie serve as the grand marshal.
Independence Day parades in Kingsport were rather sporadic until 1955, when Mack Riddle organized the first annual event. “Mr. Fourth of July” spent more than 45 years organizing, planning and designing the parade, especially selecting who would serve as the grand marshal.
Mack Riddle died in 1999. Since then, the parade bears his name as a tribute to the man behind the event.
“He was always working on the next year before finishing this year’s parade,” Mamie said of her husband. “We could be riding down the street and see a vehicle and he would say, ‘I think that would look good in the parade.’ He would follow it and invite them to be in the parade.
“He did that year long and he loved the parade.”
Mamie and Mack were married for 22 years, and for nearly all of them Mamie was the “gopher” for her husband, doing plenty of legwork, making telephone calls to help make the annual event go off without a hitch.
Though she’s 97 years old and lives at Steadman Hills, Mamie gets around unaided, doesn’t look her age and is a bit of a jokester, much like her husband was. On Tuesday, she’ll be riding on the Pal’s Sudden Service memorial float, then sitting in the grandstand by Memorial Park greeting the remainder of the parade entries.
Her wardrobe will be navy slacks, a white blouse and a patriotic scarf. If the weather is too warm, expect to see her under an umbrella.
“I’m just along for the ride,” Mamie said, noting that she’s leaving all of the details up to the chamber and Steadman Hills officials. “I worked behind the scenes, never wanted notoriety, but I believe Mack would be humbled and think it a great honor for me to be asked.”
The Mack Riddle American Legion 64th annual Independence Day parade will begin at 10 a.m. on Tuesday at the Renaissance Center and follow Center Street to Fort Henry Drive, ending at Memorial Park across from Dobyns-Bennett High School.