State park renamed in honor of late senator who helped establish recreation area

Published 6:38 am Sunday, April 4, 2021

Gov. Tate Reeves signed a bill renaming Natchez State Park in honor of former State Senator Robert Dearing from Natchez, who died July 30, 2020, at the age of 85.

The Mississippi Legislature ended the 2021 session Thursday and Reeves signed the bill renaming the park on March 17.

According to Senate Bill 2075, the park will be renamed from Natchez State Park to “Bob M. Dearing Natchez State Park,” effective July 1. The bill passed the Senate with 39 “yes” votes, none voted “no” and three abstentions. The bill passed the House with 114 “yes” votes, four “no” votes and four abstentions.

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Dearing’s daughter, Daye Dearing, said she and her family were both surprised and humbled when they heard the news that the park would be renamed for her father.

Daye Dearing said her father served on the State Park Committee and was instrumental in the establishment of Natchez State Park, thinking it would be a great addition to the Natchez area.

“At one time, he hoped to establish a golf course there,” Daye Dearing said. “He was really happy when the state park was built. He would be just tickled to know that the state legislature has done this for him. It’s a big honor for us as his family that they did. He hoped that it would happen, not thinking that it would.”

District 37 Sen. Melanie Sojourner, R-Natchez, said a bill to rename the park was introduced by Dearing’s former desk mate, District 2 Sen. David Parker, R-Olive Branch, last year and failed.

However, the Senate voted unanimously in favor of the bill this session.

“The renaming of the park was a request that Sen. Dearing made to his former desk mate, Sen. David Parker. Upon Sen. Dearing’s passing, Sen. Parker fulfilled his request,” Sojourner said. “He first introduced the bill last year but it failed to get approved. This year he reintroduced the bill and leadership brought it to the floor, where it passed.”

Although Sojourner and Dearing were political opponents, Sojourner supported the measure to rename the park in his honor.

Dearing served 36 years in the Mississippi Legislature, first being elected to office in 1979 as a Democrat and serving for eight terms until he was defeated in 2011 by Sojourner. Four years later, Dearing defeated Sojourner to recapture the seat.

Sojourner subsequently reclaimed the seat in 2019 after Dearing’s retirement.

“While I often disagreed with his policies Sen. Dearing was a wonderful man who was loved by all he met.  He loved Natchez dearly and his name will now forever be remembered and connected with the state park he helped make possible,” Sojourner said.

District 94 Rep. Robert Johnson III, D-Natchez, said he strongly advocated for the bill to pass.

“Sen. Bob Dearing was as much a part of Natchez as anyone and I wanted to make sure it happened and make sure it passed the House,” Johnson said of renaming the park. Johnson said it was an appropriate way to memorialize Dearing’s contributions to Natchez.

“He was instrumental in making sure the State Park became a reality,” Johnson said. “I don’t think there was anyone more singularly involved in that project. After it was created, he continued to fight hard for it whenever improvements were needed. He continued to fight to make sure the Natchez State Park was never left out. Natchez lost a great leader and a great man and I’m glad we can remember him in this way.”