- Associated Press - Sunday, January 3, 2016

PELL CITY, Ala. (AP) - Everybody who knew Papa Gene knew he loved to fish.

“Didn’t matter if it was fresh water, salt water, the Gulf of Mexico, he didn’t just like to fish, he loved it,” said Gene Sparks’ son Steve.

It’s only fitting then that when Eugene Autry Sparks of Pell City lost his battle with cancer in December, he took his final ride in a bass boat.

Steve Sparks said he and his father had discussed his funeral just weeks before his death.

“Me and my dad were sitting at his kitchen table, planning his funeral,” Sparks said. “I told him I had a big surprise for everybody when the time got here and he said ‘boy, what are you going to do? Put me in the back of a pickup truck? He started laughing and I told him no, I was going to give him his last boat ride. He just smiled and gave me that look and said he sure wished he could be around to see that.

“It was strange sitting there planning my dad’s funeral, but it sure was a blessing,” he added.

Gene Sparks died Dec. 18 at age 68. His funeral was held Dec. 21 and, true to his word, Steve Smith made sure his father was transported from the church to the cemetery - a ride of about 4 miles - in a bass boat.

The boat was on a trailer pulled by a truck with the casket secured on top. Steve Sparks and his brother and their two sons - “Daddy’s four boys,” Sparks said - rode with the casket in the boat.

People pulled over as the long procession went by, Sparks said, and many waved or pointed. The story of Gene Sparks’ procession has since been featured on an outdoor website and family friends on social media described the event as “heartwarming” and “awesome.”

Sparks said the boat ride was the perfect tribute for his water-loving father, who would have appreciated the joke.

“He always had a great sense of humor,” he said with a laugh.

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