Rosemary's message to her family and friends

by Nick Clooney, Cincinnati Post, July 1, 2002

My sister Rosemary died peacefully at her home Saturday evening at 7:30 our time. Her husba nd Dante, her children and other family members were at her side.

The first piece I wrote about Rosemary in the hours after her death poured off the pen easily . Too easily. In reading it over, I found that it was about me, not her; how I felt about her, all my memories of her flooding back, how I would catalog her contributions, and so on.

That one was consigned to the wastebasket. Rosemary was not exclusive family property and had not been since she was 16 and, with our sister Betty, opened her mouth on the radio and sent that magic voice into the ether.

There was no turning back then. Listeners to the radio heard what we had been hearing at fami ly gatherings on Sunday afternoons in Maysville, or at the Washington Theater on Second Street, or in school plays in Ma ysville and Cincinnati.

From that moment to this, she became increasingly yours as much as she was ours.

It took some time for us - those in the family - to figure that out. We had no map to follow for that situation. We had never experienced real fame connected to our family. Good people, to be sure, some very successf ul and even prominent, but not one truly famous.

When Rosemary and Betty started to sing on WLW in the spring of 1945, they just wanted to sin g. They vaguely understood they were heading into uncharted waters. What they had no way of knowing is that they were taking all the rest of us with them along for the ride. They were raising the bar for the whole family.

When, after a time, it was Rosemary by herself in the international spotlight, her voice took her to unimagined heights. Hit records ratcheted up the fame - and the pressure.

She was by then a young woman, essentially alone, trying to sort out what she was supposed to do about personal appearances, endorsements, records, even movies, just like the ones we saw at the Russell Theate r on Saturday afternoons when we were kids.

We in the family couldn't help. We had no frame of reference for that world of high rollers, so we were left with little to offe r her but platitudes.

So she slogged ahead, alone, making good decisions and bad ones, learning as she went and tea ching the rest of us along the way.

Once, when I was 19 and broadcasting in Wilmington, Delaware, she came to visit and asked me, as sisters will, if I thought she had changed.

''Of course you've changed. You had to. You're the one who went out and slew all the drag ons for us.''

Rosemary loved that phrase and repeated it up to the last days of her life.

But those dragons did not go down without a fight. The scars Rosemary bore became public know ledge when her books came out and people around the world learned again there is no free lunch. Fame comes with an ex orbitant price tag.

I last spoke to Rosemary Thursday night. She had a message I was to convey to you. She wanted to thank you for your prayers, your good wishes and your affection through the years.

Rosemary had no premonition that her message was a goodbye. She had every intention of delive ring the same message in person when she came to Maysville for her music festival in September. Things didn't work o ut that way. Rosemary knew as well as most that not everything goes exactly as planned.

There will be a service in California as there should be. She lived there for 50 years and ha s many friends in that beautiful part of the world.

But then Dante and her children will bring her home, to the big, slow river and the thousand shades of green and the sharp stubby hills and the smiles and tears of those who love her.

She always came home.