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magazine home > archives > spring 2002 > features

Capt. Dale Meanley Lozier is no stranger to water. She grew up on the Mighty Mississippi and learned to navigate its muddy waters as a teen-ager. Today, the U of M graduate captains a fleet of riverboats
on the river near Memphis.

Rollin' on the River
by Kristen Epler

“All aboard. All aboard, the 2:30 ride of the Memphis Queen II cruise.”

As Capt. Dale Meanley Lozier (BS ’69, MS ’72) hails the passengers on shore, she checks for heavy winds. She grips the knobs of the large wooden wheel used to turn the 110-foot sternwheeler and reflects on life on the Mississippi.

Captain Dale Lozier

Capt. Dale Meanley Lozier (BS '69, MS '72)

“The river has a lot of power,” Lozier says. “I feel like I’m getting a good dose of God when I’m out there. I feel like I’m getting renewed.”

A second-generation riverboat captain, Lozier and her brothers were raised around water.

“When we were growing up,” she recalls, “my dad bulldozed a five-acre lake into our front yard. We used to swim and go water-skiing in it.”

Even before she was born, her parents’ story began on the water.

“It all started on a canoe,” she says. Her father, Capt. Thomas Meredith Meanley and mother Carol Kimball got engaged on a canoe trip on Horseshoe Lake in Arkansas. It was their fifth date.

After a stint in the Navy, Meanley moved to Memphis and joined the news staff of the now-defunct Memphis Press Scimitar. Assigned to cover outdoor news, he became intrigued by the Mississippi River. He followed his fascination, and in the summer of 1960, he bought a fleet of riverboats and launched a new career.

Lozier and her brothers became part of the family business — navigating a series of passenger and party boats on the Mississippi around Memphis. Her father passed on his fascination of the river to his children and raised a litter of “river rats,” she says.

But her father wasn’t content to merely pilot boats on the river. In 1963, he decided to build his own showboat.

“It was amazing what my dad could do from reading books,” Lozier says. “He used to read for two hours every morning. My dad developed a talent for learning through reading and read his whole life.”

Meanley soon discovered he could build the showboat cheaper in his backyard than by bidding out the job. So he traded in his press pass for a captain’s hat and completed the Memphis Showboat in the spring of 1964.

View of bridge from riverboat
Memphis sights such as the Hernando DeSoto Bridge are commonplace for Lozier and her passengers. The second-generation riverboat captain says she grew up on the Mighty Mississippi.

“I’ll never forget that first trip,” Lozier says. “It was just barely finished. It was windy and dad had never landed the boat with people on it before. It took him three or four tries, but he finally landed it safely.”

That first year, the Memphis Showboat made only seven cruises, but the entertainment vessel soon earned a reputation as a favorite spot for weddings, concerts, high school proms, the Cotton Carnival and other large social events.

Meanley wanted a smaller boat, so he built the one-deck, two-stern wheeler named the Belle Carol. Once again he ordered a hull and completed it himself.

“When he ordered the Showboat, all he got was the hull, the main deck and the supports,” Lozier says. “So he had to do his own plumbing, electricity, bulkheads (walls), all the trim, and had to make sure it met all Coast Guard requirements and fire safety codes.”

After the Corps of Engineers built rock dikes along the Arkansas side of the river, the Belle Carol could no longer navigate the muddy waters. So Meanley started designing the 400-passenger true sternwheeler Memphis Queen III, but before christening it in 1979, he completed the 65-foot yacht Lorac — that’s “Carol” spelled backward.

Meanley built the Lorac to go on a worldwide cruise with his wife. The couple’s Sunday school class came to see it when it was finished.

“It was huge and had a cabin on top of it,” Lozier says. “It was painted with red lead, which gave it the appearance of wood. They asked my dad if he had some kind of divine revelation and if he was collecting animals in pairs.”

Lozier’s mother died before her parents could take the yacht around the world, but the couple enjoyed many local trips on the boat, which looked suspiciously like Noah’s Ark.

Lozier’s interest in riverboats can be traced to the beginning of the family business, before the new boats were built. She and her brothers — Jerry and Capt. Jake Meanley (BBA ’71) — worked on the boats from childhood. She soon befriended deckhand and U of M student, Capt. John H. Lozier Jr. (BS ’66) The two shared their love of the river and married six years later in 1968. When her father retired, John took over as president and general manager, with Lozier and Jake at his side.

Captain Dale Lozier

Capt. Dale Meanley Lozier has entertained a variety of guests throughout the years, including Al Gore, Cybill Shepherd, Mother Theresa and Ringo Starr.

That same year, Dale’s father pushed her to get a river pilot’s license. She signed up for classes at the River School, but opted to take the test early. After a lifetime around river vessels, Lozier was able to earn a perfect score on the “Rules of the Water.”

“After 22 years, I had kind of learned it by osmosis,” she says.

Lozier and John raised a third generation of “water babies” — John Thomas or “J. T.” and William Dale Lozier. “They were river rats from birth,” she says. J. T. and William were raised on the boats and each boy earned a pilot’s license as soon as he was old enough.

The family earned a living for years as the business grew, running dinner parties and private cruises. But tragedy struck in May of 1988 when John died of cancer. Lozier’s brother, Jake, took over as general manager and ran the Memphis Queen line with her help. William remained in the family business until 1999.

The deaths of J. T. and Lozier’s brother threatened to sink her plans for the business. “At that point, I thought, ‘What am I going to do,’” she says. But she persevered, relying on her faith, her family and her love of the river.

Despite the hardships, Lozier’s life remains fully anchored to the river. She and her second husband, Ralph Bagwell, bought a 600-passenger, three-deck party boat they dubbed the City of Memphis.

The boats bring joy to Lozier — and to the people who ride them. She’s entertained celebrities such as Mother Teresa, Cybill Shepherd, Ringo Star and Al Gore.

While Lozier loves the crowded cruises, it is the pull of the Mighty Mississippi that continues to lure her to the Memphis banks.

“There’s just something about the river that’s hard to stay away from,” she says. “No where else can I feel the same calm and serenity.”

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