Fans, Friends and Family say ‘Goodbye’ to The Possum
Friends of The Possum took the spotlight today at Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry House — on a stage where George Jones drew tears from adoring fans many times over his long career.
One by one, in a ceremony that was open to the general public, and where Jones’ famous friends drew as much laughter from the crowd as tearful remembrances — they honored the beloved Country legend, who died Friday, April 26 at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn.
Many told stories of George’s love for his wife, Nancy, and his generosity to many young, up-and-coming singers. An empty rocking chair was behind the podium of the stage throughout the ceremony, surrounded in the background by flower arrangements and a large, framed portrait photo of Jones.
Randy Travis sang “Amazing Grace,” after telling the crowd Jones’ version was the best. “It literally gave me chills,” he said.
First Lady Laura Bush, CBS Chief Washington Correspondent Bob Scheiffer and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabaee also recalled personal connections to Jones. Hundreds of fans, many waiting hours for a chance to get inside, filled the balcony; a couple of them even called out his name as pallbearers rolled his flower-covered casket away.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam recalled Jones’ impact around the world, and fondly remembered Jones as a great Tennessean who related to people. “Tennessee will never stop loving George Jones,” Haslam said.
“George is a person who has changed the trajectory of how people think about our state,” the governor said.
Alan Jackson ended the ceremony with a stirring rendition of “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” Vince Gill and Patty Loveless performed a mournful version of Gill’s “Go Rest High On That Mountain,” with Gill at times choking on tears, and words, while picking a mournful acoustic guitar solo and joining Loveless on the chorus. Gill also shared that Jones called him by the nickname “Sweetpea.”
“The great thing is every time someone calls me Sweetpea, I’ll get to think about him,” Gill told the Opry crowd.
Jones’ fans were as much a part of the event as were the celebrities.
Taylor Whitman, 19, of Smyrna, and his coworker, Cindy Fann, sat on the curb waiting for the ceremony in a long line that snaked up the sidewalk from the Opry House to Opryland Hotel. They had been waiting for hours Thursday morning to get inside. Whitman picked banjo to pass the time, and said he found George Jones to be an inspiration in his life.
“I’ve been playing banjo for years, and I figured since I was coming out here to pay tribute to George Jones, how else better way to do it than to play music?’” Whitman said. “That’s what he loved to do. He wouldn’t want us crying out here and being all sad. He would want us out here playing music, enjoying ourselves and celebrating.”
Whitman said he once met Jones in a Cracker Barrel, and how Jones was having fun, teasing his wife Nancy with a paper from a drinking straw. Whitman’s coworker, Fann, said she once waited on George and Nancy at a pizza restaurant in Eagleville, Tenn. about 16 years ago. “It didn’t dawn on me who it was until, man, I said ‘Well, he tipped good!’ I looked up, saw that Cadillac and that Possum, and I told my boss, ‘Why did you not tell me?’ He said ‘It’s because I didn’t want you up there saying, ‘Sing me a song, George.’ I would have. Or, I would have sung to him.’”
As the ceremony ended, a few fans snapped photos as limousines led the Jones family and Jones’ body along the road between the Opry House and Opry Mills Mall. Four white trucks from Stage Call Specialized Transportation were nearby, and honked their horns with fanfare as the limousines passed. A worker in one of the trucks said the company occasionally hauled equipment Jones concerts.
For updated coverage, including more photos, interviews with fans and full story, check back at CMACloseUp.com.