Wolfe’s life began, ended on the river

Published 3:58 pm Friday, November 13, 2015

The river was Albert Wolfe’s life.

“He loved boating, loved the river,” his brother, Jimmy Wolfe said. “He was well-known all over the river. He worked up the lower Mississippi, the upper Mississippi, the Ohio River, Tennessee River, Illinois River and the Tombigbee.”

Wednesday, while piloting a towboat owned by Riverside Construction of Vicksburg on a job in Louisiana, Albert Wolfe, 83, died at the boat’s controls, doing what he loved.

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“He was a good guy,” said Bishop Victor Johnson, pastor of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Vicksburg, which Albert Wolfe and his family attended.

“He was honest as the day is long and very dedicated to his family. They were good people. As long as I’ve known him, he’s always worked on the water. If he could have requested anytime to go, it would have been on the water.”

“Albert was unique in his own way,” Jimmy Wolfe said, adding his brother was the oldest of eight children — seven boys and one girl. The first four, he said, were born in a houseboat in Vicksburg.

“Albert got his first license for a boat when he was about 18 years old, a 50-ton master’s license,” he said. “Back then, they didn’t check age as closely as they do now. He was one of the youngest to get a master’s license. He perfected his trade. He became an excellent boatman and he worked various different companies.”

At one point, Jimmy said, Albert owned his own boats, operating a marine service company, Wolfe Marine Service on the Illinois River, and later Commercial Fleeting in New Orleans.

The river, Jimmy said, was in their blood; their father worked on the Sprague shoveling coal, and Albert’s brothers all became towboat pilots. Their grandfather worked on steamboats, he said, and operated a store boat that visited river cities.

“There’s four of us left living, and three of us are actively working,” he said.

Albert, he said, “I guess he was sort of the influence for us. Him and daddy, both being boatmen and being in the family. We just sort of gravitated that way, but he sort of pioneered the way.”

Albert, his brother said, wasn’t an outgoing person.

“He was sociable, but he wouldn’t initiate a lot (of conversation). When he was in a crowd, he was sociable, and he wasn’t afraid to talk to strangers. He just wouldn’t initiate contact,” he said.

Johnson described Albert as “quiet,” and recalled attending his 80th birthday party. “His family would be talking, and they’d say, ‘Albert, remember that?’ and mention something and he would just smile.”

Charles Turner, who now lives in Sheridan, Arkansas, said Albert Wolfe helped him get his master’s license.

“He was more to me than my daddy was,” he said. “He carried me on the river, made a captain of me. He was a good man, always thinking about the other person.”

Turner said he was 4 years old when he first met Albert.

“We moved next door to him in 1946, and we’ve been together ever since,” he said. “He was 10 years older than me. I was the oldest in my family and I didn’t have a big brother. He was their big brother, so he had to be my big brother.

“So even though I was an outsider, he was big brother, everything he did he brought me along. We fished, hunted, together all my life. I became his son Mike’s big brother.”

Albert, he said, “Broke me in, taught me how to run a boat, taught me how to deck. He carried me out there. I was 16 years old, and I’ve stayed with it. I’ve been in the pilot house 50-something years.”

Albert Wolfe’s last job was with Riverside Construction. He joined the company about five years ago, and captained the company’s towboat, the MV Latana.

“He was very capable,” said company vice president Don Miller. “We do a lot of work for the Corps of Engineers on the river so subsequently, we have our own towboat and barges to do that with (moving equipment and barges). He knew his business very, very, well, and he was a good friend.”

At the time of Albert’s death, he said, a crew was working on a project for the Corps at the Madison Parish Port near Tallulah, Louisiana.

“He was doing what he loved,” Miller said. “We should all be so lucky to die doing what we enjoy.”