Professor Joe Goldblatt
There is an old country music joke that goes like this. “What do you get when you play a country music record backwards? You get your wife, your house, and your car.”
This week upon learning of the sad loss my long time friend the USA country music star Stan Hitchcock, whose ancestors were Uster Scots, I wished I could play the record backward and his golden voice, wise counsel, and gentle humour would magically return for all of us to enjoy once more.
In 1987, my Washington, DC based events management firm was invited to submit a proposal to produce the celebrations for the first ever convention centre to be opened in Nashville, Tennessee. We carefully prepared our proposal and we were delighted when the head of public relations for the new centre invited us to take the lead in producing their milestone events.
I immediately flew to Nashville where the convention centre staff had arranged for me to stay at the nearby Stouffer Hotel that had a revolving restaurant at its pinnacle. I settled in for a bite of lunch and watched Nashville, or as it is now known, “Music City” slowly pass by as my table revolved. I was struck by the lush green valleys in the distance and the energy of people walking quickly upon the pavement below.
Towards the end of my lunch the waiter told me that the Mayor of Nashville had stopped by the hotel and would like to meet me. I quickly made my way to the lobby and met the very handsome and distinguished Mayor Richard Fulton. He reached for my hand and said in his soft southern voice “Welcome to Nashville.” Then he asked me if I had visited before?
His question made me recall my first and only other visit that was in 1975 when I had just graduated from college and was riding a bus to Washington, DC to seek my future fortune. The bus stopped in Nashville and I asked the driver if I could remain over – night and take another bus in the morning to DC. The driver agreed this was possible and I began seeking accommodation.
I only had $50.00 cash and no savings so my housing options were limited. I first visited the local YMCA and they were full. Next I found an old hotel that had become a hostel for homeless men. They offered me a bed for the night and I asked the front desk staff if I could visit the Grand Old Opry. The staff told me that the Opry had recently moved to Opryland that was about ten miles out with the downtown area. The round trip taxi ride would cost over $50 and therefore I went to bed early and continued my journey the next morning.
After I told this story to the Mayor he dropped his otherwise sharp strong jaw and proudly said “Do you realise that we are building on the site of that old hotel our new temple to the hospitality industry!” I was flabbergasted.
The next morning I met with the Nashville Convention Centre staff and Denise invited me to join her and her husband who was a famous country music television and recording star and more recent cable television executive for dinner. During our dinner she asked about my background and I mentioned that my wife grew up in Des Moines, Iowa and coincidentally Denise had lived there as a child as well. She asked about the schools that my wife attended and when I mentioned her nursery school’s name she smiled and said “I also went there.” A few days later Denise produced a photo of herself and my wife as cute young girls standing side by side for one of the school’s celebrations. As I looked across the table I thought how radiantly beautiful Denise and my wife had become from that early beginning in the same nursery school. There must have been something in the water.
Over the past thirty – five years Denise, Stan, their family and our family have become close friends. When in 1989 we sold our business to a Nashville firm we relocated to Music City for three years and our friendship became even closer. During one family celebration we were invited to their home for Easter dinner. In the southern tradition the meal featured a huge ham. However, when Stan realised that our Jewish family may not be able to eat the ham due to religious dietary restrictions he proudly announced “Now I shall carve the chicken!” We all laughed and enjoyed the savoury faux chicken upon the Hitchcock’s ample groaning board.
During the annual USA Fourth of July celebrations we gathered together in a pasture near their home to watch Stan and his son ignite fireworks. The fireworks misfired and Stan and his son quickly ran for cover as they were charged by an enormous bull. They managed to leap over the fence to safety just as the bull crashed into the wooden slats. Our wives then decided that was the end of our fireworks adventures for that year.
During Stan’s 86 years he was respected and admired by millions of audience members all over the world, first in the 1960’s with his own national television show and later in the 1990’s when he co – founded the world’s first successful country music cable television network. I greatly respected him for his integrity, devotion to his family and friends, and his wonderful sense of humour that would turn the most awkward and difficult situation into something that we could later smile about.
His 1969 Top 20 hit record was “Honey, I’m Home”. The song ends with the lyric “Then hold me in gentle arms and wrap me in your love, honey I’m home.” I only wish we could play the record backwards and this prince of country music would return to us once more. However, we shall now forever hold him in our hearts wrapped in our love for his music and for the sweet man whose life meant so much to so many for so long.
Stan and his wife had planned to visit Scotland a few years ago. His illness interrupted those plans. Now, I believe that his devoted wife will visit Scotland very soon in memory and celebration of Stan and he will indeed finally be home at last in the country of his ancestors. Both old nd new Scots such as me and my family will be glad to have him home. As we say to those we love, “haste ye back.”
Professor Joe Goldblatt is Emeritus Professor of Planned Events at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh, Scotland. His views are his own. To learn more about his views visit www.joegoldblatt.scot