By Kevin DeBusk
The Dixie National Rodeo, in Jackson Miss., was a special place to Collierville’s Lecile Harris. In fact, in 2016 he said, “The Dixie National is really special to me. I know the guys, their kids and grandkids; I’ve seen them grow up. It’s like coming home.”
And when Lecile Harris tipped his hat an exited the arena following the final performance of the 2020 Dixie National Rodeo everyone in the building left knowing they would welcome him home again in 2021. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case as Harris passed away later that night in his sleep.
However, the Dixie National, Harper and Morgan Rodeo Company and the state of Mississippi wanted to assure that Harris’s spirit would live on for years as well as the passion and love this man shared for years to come.
“We’re honored to recognize the life of Lecile Harris,” Mississippi Commissioner of Agriculture Andy Gipson said. “He was a friend and native Mississippian and died after doing what he loved to do for so many years at the Dixie National.” And what was that? “Lecile lived his life in a way that made us smile and he brought so much joy to so many peoples lives.”
To assure he was honored properly, and the family knew how much joy he brought Lecile to those who attended the Dixie National it began with the rodeos opening on Feb. 12, the date of 2020’s final performance, and Sat. the 13.
This opening began in a dark house with Harris’s longtime friend, and 25-year Dixie National rodeo announcer, Mike Mathis entering on horseback and sharing Lecile’s life story with the audience, while images flashed across the video boards. The culmination of opening occurred when Mathis directed everyone’s attention to the far end of the arena to the clown barrel and Lecile’s son Matt, who performed with his dad for year. And then to close out the opening out of the fog spectators were treated to Lecile’s great grandson Coy Rhoda entering the arena dressed like his grandfather, including makeup, and Coy saying Lecile’s famous opening comment “Hi y’all.”
“Lecile Harris was truly unique and a special guy,” Mathis said. “He was truly all the things we talked about. He had a presence that was all his own and I’m so thankful they did this.” He continued by adding that this (mural) would assure his memory lived on forever.
Saturday was filled with not some additional special events designed to show the Dixie Nationals appreciation for all Harris had done for the community over the years. Saturday morning the family would be loaded into a horse drawn carriage and participate in a memorial processional around the Mississippi State Fairground. This processional was led by a single bagpiper and those Lecile loved being around, rodeo royalty. In additional, the processional would include the Commissioner of Agriculture Andy Gipson on horseback and at least twenty covered wagons
Upon conclusion of the processional many of those who had braved the frigid temperatures to watch the processional joined the family inside the Mississippi Coliseum for several special presentations including the ribbon cutting of the Lecile Harris mural and plaque.
“Generations of Mississippians loved Lecile and we thought about ways we could honor his memory,” Mississippi Commissioner of Agriculture said. “We remember him and wanted to do something that would be a permanent reflection and memorial to Lecile.” And with that he brought the family up to cut the ribbon on the bigger than life mural.”
During the memorial service and ribbon cutting the family was also presented with a resolution from the Mississippi legislators, a copy of the plaque being placed with mural and some photos that were taken by a lady who worked at the coliseum during his final performance.
“What a beautiful testimony it is to be able to do something you’re good at and love till the good Lord calls you home. May we all be so lucky,” Mississippi State Representative Dan Eubanks said. He continued saying that he was presenting a resolution honoring the life, legacy and all the laughs.
“I don’t think I can put into words what this weekend meant to me and my family,” Harris’s granddaughter Indie Harris Rhoda said. She continued saying, “I We knew it was going to be a hard weekend for us but the Dixie National fans, Harper and Morgan Rodeo family, Commissioner of Agriculture Andy Gipson and the coliseum workers reminded us that we are not alone in our loss.”
Moreover, she added, “He was right when he said, ‘It’s like coming home’,” referencing the quote from the mural wall.
Matt Harris, who had performed with his dad at the Dixie National was visible touched by outpouring of love “Dad loved this rodeo and loved all of you.”