Maysville waits for its daughter to come home

Post staff report

MAYSVILLE, Ky. - This historic Ohio River community is mourning the loss of its most famous daughter.

''Rosemary Clooney is an icon,'' says Maysville City Manager Dennis Redmond.

''She never forgot Maysville and, likewise, we never forgot her. It's a very sad day for Maysv ille.''

Clooney, born and reared in Maysville before she went on to become a singing and movie star, die d Saturday at the age of 74 in Los Angeles. Her family was by her side.

She is expected to be buried Friday in St. Patrick's Cemetery in this city of 9,000 that trace s its roots to the 1780s. Many members of her family are buried at St. Patrick's.

''She had requested to be buried back in her hometown'' said Redmond. ''Her family is honoring h er wishes and bringing her back.'''

Redmond is asking Maysville businesses and organizations to use their signboards this week ''to welcome Rosie back home one final time.''

Although a native of Maysville, Rosemary has a home in nearby Augusta where she stayed during vi sits.

''She has a house in Augusta and visited several times a year,'' said Augusta Mayor Wendell Hig h, who called her death ''a tragic loss, not only for Augusta and Maysville, but for the whole country really. She was a fine and great lady and she'll be missed by all of us.

''Our hearts go out to the Clooney family for their loss,'' the mayor said.

While just about everyone in Augusta and Maysville either knew Ms. Clooney, or had older rela tives who knew her, folks say Ms. Clooney's closest hometown friend is probably Blanche Chambers, a 78-year-old bl ack woman who was Ms. Clooney's constant childhood companion.

''Blanche and Rosie in the '30s and '40s didn't know there was a race problem and we're glad nobody ever told them,'' noted Redmond.

Chambers, sitting in her modest house among her scrapbooks and mementoes of her friendship with Ms. Clooney, said she and Ms. Clooney were almost inseparable as girls.

''We were always together,'' said the Maysville woman. ''We never had an argument in our entire friendship. We would sing together. We would play together. We would go everywhere together.

''As for race, we never paid any attention to it. We never thought anything about it.''

Billy Johnson, 70, who said he marveled at the special friendship Clooney and Chambers had, reme mbered when Clooney, as a little girl, acted as a makeshift business agent for Chambers.

''Blanche would dance and people would toss money and Rosemary would pick up the money for Blanc he,'' Johnson recalled with a laugh. Chambers said Ms. Clooney's stardom never changed their relationship.

''I still looked at her as my special friend and she treated me the same way,'' she said. ''Rose mary was truly a friend of mine and was a wonderful person.

''She never forgot Maysville. She always loved her hometown.''

Chambers recalled that she and Clooney spent all day together when Ms. Clooney returned to Maysv ille in 1953 for the world premier of her movie, ''The Stars Are Singing,'' at the Russell Theater on Third Street.

The Russell Theater, which is being restored thanks to recent fund-raisers in Maysville by Cl ooney, still has a faded poster from that film in front of the theater.

Ms. Clooney was scheduled to return to Maysville for a Rosemary Clooney Celebration and another Russell Theater fund-raiser Sept. 27-28. The festival is expected to go on as a spec ial tribute to Clooney.

Angela Davenport fondly remembers when Clooney returned to Maysville last Fourth of July.

''She ate at the French Quarter Inn restaurant and I waited on her,'' said Davenport. ''She wa s very nice and very friendly. She tipped me $50.

''I really liked her singing and my mother really enjoyed her acting. She used to go to the Russ ell Theater to see her movies.''

Sanford Parker, who lives on Rosemary Clooney Street in Maysville, said he was saddened by Ms. Clooney's death.

''I grew up with her and I thought she was tops,'' he said. ''She was truly a nice person. Sh e did a lot to help her hometown. We're going to miss her.''

Jeremy Ray Myers recalled Clooney as ''a smart lady from a good family.''

''I've done some research on how she influenced popular music,'' said Myers. ''She was not o nly an American singing star. She was a world famous singing star.

''Her death is not only a huge loss for Maysville, but for the entire world.''

Glenn ''Breezy'' Breeze, 95, was a young man in Maysville when he watched Ms. Clooney grow up.

''Believe me, Rosie was a good-looking girl,'' he remembered. ''The boys would run after her lik e a bunch of hunting dogs after a rabbit.

''When she grew up and became a star and came back to Maysville, she was nice to everybody. S he was special, that woman was.''

Redmond, the Maysville city manager, said despite Ms. Clooney's stardom, she was ''just one of the folks'' when she returned home.

''She shopped in the grocery store, she chatted with people,'' he said. ''She remembered our names. She would ask about our relatives. There were thousands of us who knew her personally.

''She was a star to the world, but here in Maysville, she was our Rosemary.''