Gerry Ford in her Elvis room

Donna Hunt

Herald Democrat

Elvis, Gone but not Forgotten


 

 

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 return.

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 house.

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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