Goodbye To An Old Friend

Written by Don Reid on June 23rd, 2010 Posted in General

I was on a week’s vacation with the family when I got the phone call Sunday night a week ago.   Jimmy Dean had passed away about an hour before and Donna, his wife, didn’t want  me to hear it on the news.  How very thoughtful of her with all she was going through at the time.  But that’s the kind of people they both have always been.  

I talked to her a couple of times through the week and she asked me if I would speak at the funeral.  I wasn’t sure I had the grit to do it but I certainly didn’t have the heart not to.  So yesterday we went to the last chapter in Jimmy’s life with a lot of other friends and family and said our goodbyes.  Four people spoke, George Hamilton IV, Williard Scott, Jimmy’s daughter Connie Taylor and me. I think I can best serve the moment by just reprinting the words I offered as his eulogy.   

       I don’t even remember when we first became friends.  Jimmy was about a decade and a half older than me, so he was always there.  I grew up hearing him on the radio, watching him on Washington tv on Saturday nights on the Town and Country Jamboree, and then all of his network shows.  The Statlers then started crossing paths with him on television and concerts.  We were even on the same record label for years and a great and  deep friendship blossomed. 

When he moved to Richmond when he and Donna got married, we would come down here often and they would come up to Staunton to see us.  They even came to our final concert and Jimmy introduced us that night- brought us on stage for the last time.  And just before we all five walked out, we  had a prayer together.  That was the kind of friend he was.

In the past couple of years as his health began to fail, we didn’t see one another quite as often but we talked a lot on the phone.  He would call anytime, day or night, and I’m sure a lot of you here today can relate with this.  He always had a joke to tell me or was just checking in.

The first time I saw Jimmy in a wheelchair was at his 80th birthday party.  It bothered me.  But it didn’t bother him.  He handled it with a dignity and grace that only he could muster up and sell.  And again I sat at his feet and we laughed and talked and he regaled me with stories about early tv that he knew I loved to hear.

The last time I talked to Jimmy was just days before his passing.  He called me on my birthday.  And when I picked up the phone there was that old warm, familiar, swingin’, honey-drippin’ voice singing Happy Birthday to me.  The voice wasn’t as strong as it once was; wasn’t as clear as it once was; but it was just as sweet as it ever was.  And when he finished singing, I was in tears.

I said, “I appreciate that so much, buddy, but what can I do for you?”

And he said, and the words are still ringing in my ears and I think they’ll always be; he said, “Ole pal of mine, you can just continue to be the good friend to me you’ve always been for as long as I live.”

I said, “That’s a given.  Give me something hard to do.”

After a couple more minutes we hung up.  And I had no idea I’d never talk to him again.

But in all His glory, God is always in charge.  And today Jimmy is the Sleeping Beauty.  Because he was a beauty from inside.  He had a heart and a smile the size of the state he hailed from.  He was my friend and I loved him dearly and I will miss him for all the tomorrows to come as I know everyone will who knew him and care for him.

God be with you, my friend, and I know He is.  God be with you.

After the funeral, we went back to Chaffin Bluff, Jimmy and Donna’s house on the James River, for a private burial.  His body was entombed in a granite mausoleum shaped like a giant piano that sits on the riverbank and can be seen from the kitchen window.  Sitting in the gazebo 30 feet away, you feel like he never left; that you can still sit there and talk to him and hear his voice over the sound of the boats going by below. 

There was lunch in what they always called the ‘party house’ by the pool.  Harold and Brenda and Debbie and I were joined by another old and good friend since day one, Bill Anderson.  While eating and reminiscning , Bill had the line that capped the day.  He said, “We know we’re getting old when we start attending more funerals than we do weddings.”  Sad but true, Bill.  Sad but true.

                                               Tuesday June 22, 2010 – 7:00 am