Elvis Presley has never had
a truer fan than Gerry Ford from Denison. She’s been a fan since she
was 17 years old and now she’s a 79 year old great-grandmother and
still loves Elvis. Gerry’s going to have to miss the candlelight
service at Graceland this year on the 30th anniversary of Elvis’
death, but her good friend Reba Hunt of Denison and Susie Brown and
Brenda Travis of Pottsboro left Saturday to be in Memphis to mark
the anniversary and no doubt will tell Gerry all about it when they
Gerry and Reba first met in the 1980s when one of Elvis’ cars and
one of his guitars were on exhibit in the former Steakley Chevrolet
building in downtown Denison. The two Elvis fans went down
separately to see the exhibit and to hear the Elvis music. Gerry’s
sons wanted to take her home and she didn’t want to leave, so Reba
offered to give her a ride.
When they got to Gerry’s house, she invited Reba in to see her
“Elvis Room”. Reba couldn’t believe what she was seeing. She said
she stood there “stunned” when she saw the tribute that Gerry had
created all through the years for Elvis. Everything from jewelry to
lamps, posters to albums, books to calendars - anything you can
imagine and more occupy not only the “Elvis Room” but a corner of
the living room, her bedroom and even the dining room of Gerry’s
Gerry started collecting when she was 17. Reba said “once Elvis gets
a hold on you, you’re hooked,” and Gerry’s loyalty has never
wavered. The two women have been friends ever since.
Gerry was living in California when she was in high school and heard
him singing “Heartbreak Hotel” over the radio. She tried to find out
who was singing it and went to the record store to buy a copy. She
was told that they didn’t have one because they sold out as fast as
they could get them. She ordered a copy - his first album and that
was the start of a long devotion to “The King.” She now has every
record, album, 78, and CD that he’s made.
She’s seen Elvis nine times, first in 1956 in Oakland when the
audience, mostly girls, was screaming so loudly that you could
barely hear a note he sang.
In 1976 during the Bicentennial, she had a seat on the sixth row of
the Dallas Convention Center to see Elvis. Since it was the
Bicentennial she decided to make him a red, white and blue lei to go
around his neck. She said he was walking back and forth across the
stage singing and with her lei in her hand she pushed her way
through the crowd to the front of the stage.
Things were getting pretty wild, she said, and a policeman grabbed
the lei and told everyone to go sit down. He tossed it onto the
stage. Elvis saw it and put it around his neck. Her daughter was
screaming at her that he had put the lei on and everyone was so
excited they forgot to shoot a picture of him wearing it. But Gerry
said she has proof in family members that were with her.
He came to Texas on tour again and she saw him three times in Dallas
and three times in Fort Worth. Five months before he died she
attended two of his shows in Norman, OK.
Gerry said her 65th birthday was the best ever. Her children took
her to Memphis and they were staying in a motel not far from
Graceland. She said the gates to the mansion are opened early and
visitors are allowed to visit the gravesite free. While the family
slept she got up early and went to Graceland all alone, getting
there at 7 a.m. She took flowers, walked up the driveway and stood
all by herself at the grave and shed a few tears. She said it was
very emotional for her and at that time she felt like she was his
only fan. “It was my biggest thrill,” she said.
They also went on a tour, visited Sun Records, Beale Street, saw
Elvis’ statue and ate barbecue. Gerry has been to Graceland 12 or 13
times to attend the candlelight services on anniversaries of his
death. Reba has made more than 30 trips to Graceland.
Gerry said people from all over the world attend the candlelight
service and there is no doubt that this year will be the same. “The
Elvis craze has not died down,” she said.
For the candlelight service, visitors begin carrying candles about 9
p.m. and the procession through the grounds goes on all night. There
also are “Elvis Lives” concerts held in various places in Memphis
each year during this time. On the 20th anniversary of his death
Priscilla Presley and his daughter, Lisa Marie, were present and
Lisa Marie made remarks about the video, “Don’t Cry Daddy.”
Gerry’s boys have a band called “The Rock Bottom Band” and when they
perform they always include several Elvis numbers in the program for
their mother. Someone asked how they knew those tunes and they
always reply, “My Momma raised me on this stuff.”
Gerry especially enjoys listening to Elvis’ gospel records and noted
that all three of his Grammies were for gospel songs. “Graceland is
the second most visited building in the country,” she said, second
only to the White House in Washington, D.C. August 16, 1977, was one
of the saddest days of her life, Gerry said. She had just returned
home from work. The television set was out of order and after she
had been home about 10 minutes, her daughter called to see if she
had heard the news. She said “What news?” and the daughter told her
that Elvis had died.
Gerry thought she was kidding and told her that it wasn’t nice to
say things like that. Her daughter told her it was true. Gerry’s
son, John, was in the kitchen and turned on the radio for them to
hear that it was true.
Gerry said she dropped the telephone and went into her room, sat
down and started crying. She cried so hard that she couldn’t go to
work the next day. “It was like losing a close member of the
family.” In fact, she felt like he had been a family member since
1956 when she was 17 and he was 21. She said she cannot explain the
feelings she has for Elvis.
The day before that fateful day she was thrilled that she had
received a ticket in the mail to attend a show in Memphis that would
end a tour Elvis was making. She was going with some friend from the
Dallas Fan Club of which she was a member.
“He may have died, but his spirit lives on in many, many places,”
Gerry said. One of those places in the “Elvis Room” right there in
her own home. - Donna Hunt
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