One of the most memorable trips was a country music tour for a reunion group of World War Two veterans, navy men from the same ship. These men would have been in their mid- to late sixties, polite and interested guests of the hotel. The first stop was to check out the new Grand Ole Opry, with a guide furnished by the facility. As we pulled into the parking area, I peered out the front window of the bus, looking to see where the front door was since this was my first trip to the GOO. Then I saw a familiar-looking individual walking toward the entrance, grizzled but with a brisk, upright stride. It was undoubtedly Roy Acuff. I immediately had an idea that would be a real treat for the fifty-some individuals in the bus, all of whom were acknowledged country music fans.
I asked the driver to let me out, that I would return in a few minutes. To the group, I explained I was going in to set up the tour. Then I ran pell mell inside, hoping to catch Mr. Acuff before he disappeared into the complex. Luckily, he had stopped to chat with the receptionist. When he turned around, I introduced myself and told him about the group I was conducting.
"I know they would be thrilled to have you greet them," I said in my most winning manner. But it took no persuading for him to immediately agree.
"Meet me on the stage in about twenty minutes, and I'll be glad to say hello."
I thanked him and after arranging with the receptionist for a guide, I returned to the bus, saying nothing, however, about my encounter with Roy Acuff. After all, he was a busy man and might not show up. I didn't want to set up for these men any expectations that might not be realized.
Soon, I had them all assembled in the lobby and was able to turn them over to an Opry guide, who began to move us through the different areas, including a peek into the dressing rooms of the stars. I had tipped her off that we were to be on the stage at a specified time, which she said would work out well for her tour as well.
When we arrived on stage the guide left the group to my charge. We admired the stage itself, the vastness of the auditorium, and the wonderful accouterments throughout. I told them about a visit I had made to a Johnny Cash show at the old Ryman Auditorium years earlier. We were all laughing at the huge contrast in sites when I spotted Mr. Acuff entering stage right. I called the group to attention and said, "Here's someone whom you might like to meet that knows all about this place." Like a mistress of ceremonies, I extended my arm toward the celebrity.
With that, the group exploded into applause. I knew this would be one of the highlights of their trip to Nashville. Not many people got to see a genuine legend of the Opry close up, let alone have one's hand shaken by him. For that was exactly what Mr. Acuff was doing. Then standing in front of the men, he said, "I should be the one applauding you. Those of us who didn't serve as you brave fellows did will be forever grateful for your service and sacrifice. We'll never forget you and your part to save the world from a terrible dictator. I give you my humble thanks."
For a moment there was complete silence, grounded by the emotion we all felt; then the men cheered and clapped, while the entertainer again went around and shook hands. That minor event has stayed with me through the years and forever colored my opinion of Roy Acuff, whose modesty and appreciative words seemed to have been a real measure of his character.