Nancy Jones took the podium in front of her husband's unmistakable "He Stopped Loving Her Today" headstone Saturday and assured the throng gathered to honor him that she wouldn't cry.
"And I'll tell you why," she said. "This is a huge celebration, and I love every one of you."
About 300 relatives and fans loved her right back, gathering at the Woodlawn cemetery on Thompson Lane to plant two dogwood trees — legend George Jones' favorite — and promise each other they'd never forget the humble, troubled man who appeared on the country charts for decades.
George Jones died April 26, 2013, in Nashville at age 81, and Saturday's event marked the one-year anniversary.
"Can we cry, Nancy?" Maggie Thomson of Ontario, Canada, yelled back to the widow. She and her husband, Garry, drove to Nashville, visiting the Joneses' ranch on Friday. As they stood out front taking pictures, Thomson said, a car appeared, and Nancy Jones rolled down the window and asked them if they were coming to the memorial.
Of course, they wouldn't miss it. "George is loved by all his fans," Thomson said. "But we are two of his biggest."
elevision host Keith Bilbrey was master of ceremonies, joking that George Jones — whose struggles with drugs and alcohol were well publicized — was in heaven happily drinking water with Waylon Jennings and other luminaries who've passed. But country star Larry Gatlin took the mic to propose, as a recovering alcoholic, a different scenario: "Maybe heaven is being able to have just two and not have 10."
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Tennessee state Sen. Jack Johnson, whose Williamson County district includes the Joneses' ranch, and state Rep. Glen Casada presented a resolution honoring George Jones for his gifts to country music, Tennessee and America. Nancy Jones announced that the George Jones Scholarship Fund had raised $171,000.
After the ceremony, she stayed to collect hugs and well wishes, assuring all she'd be last to leave. "I'll be here every year," she said.
"I'm never going to let George's legacy die."