Queen of tour guides’ turning 90

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 10, 2003

Roberta Alexander of Vicksburg reflects on her nearly 20 years as a licensed tour guide at the Vicksburg National Military Park.(MELANIE DUNCAN THORTISThe Vicksburg Post)

Roberta Alexander, the woman employees at the Vicksburg National Military Park call the queen of tour guides, will turn 90 this week.

“In a word, delightful,'” said Terry Winschel, park historian, about working with Alexander who was born on Feb. 14, 1913, and grew up in Raleigh.

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The Civil War park in Vicksburg and its counterpart in Gettysburg are the only two parks with licensed “civilian” guides. Alexander has been among the cadre of locals who are booked to ride with visitors along park roads since 1984.

“The park gives hundreds of tours each year for thousands of guests from around the world, and she is our most requested guide,” Winschel said. Visitors pay the guides directly, but to be licensed, prospective guides have to pass a written exam on the events of 1862 and 1863 in and around Vicksburg and an oral exam administered by park staff.

Repeat visitors ask for Alexander by name and one couple in particular who have taken the tour several times insists on having her as their guide.

“They ask for the lady with the pink parasol,” said Pat Strange, a travel counselor for the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau who is stationed at the visitors’ center in the park. “She’s the one guide that all the other guides look up to.”

Bill Nichols, park superintendent, said Alexander is an institution with the visitors she serves.

“She’s a wonderful lady and a wonderful guide,” he said. “She has a real zest for life, a love for the park and a love for life.”

Park employees are planning a birthday party for her Sunday from 1 to 4 at the visitors’ center.

Alexander has received three science degrees from Mississippi State University and first graduated from the college in 1933.

“I still have my cow bell, and I ring it when I get ready,” she said.

She taught for 22 years and spent some of those years in Vicksburg at the former Cooper High School and Carr Junior High.

Alexander recalled a time when she, another teacher and classmates were experimenting with eggs.

The plan was to drop an egg from an upper-story window.

When the class dropped the egg, it splattered on a teachers’ window on a floor below instead of on the ground.

A nature buff at heart, Alexander and her students also developed a marked trail that identified trees around Cooper, now Vicksburg High.

“The school teacher has never left her personality,” said park Ranger Emma Wilson.

“She has the uncanny ability to convey the story of the Vicksburg campaign in terms that children can understand,” Winschel said.

She said she enjoys watching birds, owls and a red tail fox from her home on Warrenton Road.

“My joy is looking from my back porch,” she said. “You can learn so much.”

She and her late husband, William Melville Alexander, have four children.

Her daughter Gail Buzhardt, said her childhood was wonderful.

“It was magical,” Buzhardt said. “We were influenced by her love of wildlife.”

Alexander said the most important lesson she’s learned in her life, she learned from her mother.

“Listen to what someone has to say, you’ll get a pretty good education,” she said.

“My mama taught me that. She said, Listen when someone talks, they have something to say, too,'” Buzhardt said.