A final goodbye to Rosie

By Peggy Kreimer, Cincinnati Post, July 6, 2002

Maysville Police Chief Van Ingram squinted in the sun in St. Patrick's Cemetery on Friday and said his own simple farewell to Rosemary Clooney.

"She used to tell me, when she was a little girl she followed Chief Harry Stewart up and down the street, lighting the streetlights," Ingram said. "That must have been in the '30s."

It's an image that mirrors the relationship of the star and her hometown of Maysville, Ingram said. Rosemary Clooney never stopped lighting the lights of Maysville.

At her funeral on Friday, Rosemary Clooney came home for the last time to the town and the people who loved her. During the funeral Mass, the Rev. Bill Hinds expressed the community's condolences to Rosemary's family. "We lost a genuine star — a light shining in our lives," he said.

He welcomed her back to her church — the place where she was baptized and received First Holy Communion. Where she prayed as a child and where she returned in 1997 to renew her faith and marry her husband, Dante DiPaolo.

Her wedding had been a religious ceremony, with bright lights and showmanship left far away. Her funeral had the same sincere focus.

"So here you are for the last time, Rosemary, and at the same time you're standing at the gate in heaven," Hinds said. His words were of God and his prayers were for Rosemary Clooney to be welcomed into God's love.

It was evident she already had been welcomed into the community's love. Fans and friends started lining up outside St. Patrick's Church at 6 a.m.

"I sat on a front porch across the street and watched Charlene Boggs from church sweep the sidewalk," said Debbie Roberts, who woke at 4 a.m. to be the first in line. "I didn't know her personally," Roberts said, "but I felt like I did. There's just no place I would rather be today."

She watched Ms. Clooney's copper casket carried into the church. She watched a parade of flowers being carried through the doors, tributes that ranged from extravagant displays to a simple vase with one pink rose.

Rosemary's nephew, George Clooney, sent eight huge arrangements all in white — tulips, roses, gladiolas, Calla lilies, spider mums and snapdragons.

Ginger Purdin of Russellville, Ohio, stood in line with one yellow rose wrapped in tissue — the official flower of her sorority, Beta Sigma Phi. "Rosemary was an honorary member," Purdin said. "I feel I've lost someone as close as a neighbor."

Purdin grew up in Maysville and was a child when her father invited 9-year-old Rosie and her sister Betty in to sing a song for the family. "He paid them a nickel each," Purdin recalled. "I've been a fan all my life."

The line of mourners stretched around the block by the time the church doors opened at 9:15 a.m. The 800-seat church was nearly filled by the time Mass started at 10.

Cousins who knew her from childhood stood next to people who knew her only from her movies and her music.

Eileen Krauss drove over from Cincinnati. "I saw her at Riverbend. She had me rolling in the aisles with her weight stories," said the ample Krauss. "This is as close as I'm going to get to meeting her until I get to heaven."

Dr. Dana Thompson, who was Ms. Clooney's surgeon at the Mayo Clinic, shared a pew with her mother, Georgia W. Thompson from Kansas City, Mo. "I had a real bond, a real connection with her," Dr. Thompson said. "She's just so open-minded and very spiritual. She would notice when I was having a bad day and try to cheer me up.

"She used to talk about her friend, Blanche. She said I reminded her of her."

Blanche Chambers might have been Ms. Clooney's oldest and closest friend. As girls they were inseparable, singing and dancing together. In the church, Blanche Chambers sat with the family and wept for her friend.

Heather French, former Miss America and Maysville's second "favorite daughter," wiped away tears as she sat with her husband, Lt. Gov. Steve Henry.

Rosemary's nephew, movie star and heart-throb George Clooney, caused barely a stir as he entered the church with his cousins, parents and sister. Stars and just folks breathed the scents of flowers stirred by huge fans in the church — which has no air conditioning — and listened to the St. Patrick's choir.

Her brother, Nick Clooney, spoke the words that were in everyone's mind. "Not a person here is not saying in a secret corner of his or her heart, `I knew her best.'

"Husband, child, grandchild, brother, sister, friends of 50 years or more and men and women who had brief, fleeting moments with Rosie, all knew her best. And they had reason to believe that," he said.

"It was Rosemary's gift to connect with people. She could wrap us in her humor and make us believe everything would work out for the best."

Her understanding of people shone just one layer beneath the impeccable notes of her songs, he said. "We're here to mourn the days we will not share with her and to thank her for those we did."

He drew laughs as he said he would speak for Rosemary. "Something I wouldn't have dared to do two weeks ago," he said. "She would like to thank all of you, husband, children, family and friends, for sharing her when the imperative of her talent took her away from you."

In a voice tight with emotion, he said "two words I have avoided saying — Goodbye, Rosemary."

Family and friends followed Rosemary's casket to St. Patrick's Cemetery, where her grave lies only steps from the graves of her parents.

Hinds prayed over the casket. Family and friends touched the sun-warmed copper in final farewells, and sons and grandsons helped the casket into the grave. By 12:30 p.m., family and friends had gone. Police and fire officials in full dress uniform had directed the last cars from the hillside and were heading back to town.

Cemetery caretaker Stephen E. Smith stood at the gravesite with three workers in dungarees — the men who would cover her grave.

"I knew her," Smith said. "I'd see her when she was up here visiting her parents' graves. She was a regular person. Nice. Down to earth.

"Yeah, she was pretty good."

To the end, Rosemary Clooney was surrounded by friends.