Bill and George at a radio show earlier this year. Bill and George with Sonny James in the early 60’s pictured above.
There was a time….long ago and far away….when I thought George Hamilton IV and I were going to share a branch on the same family tree.
My daughter, Terri, and his son, Chip (better known today as George Hamilton V), came into the den at the Hamilton’s house one Sunday afternoon and announced to both families that they planned to get married. They were either four or five-years old at the time.
Obviously, the romance didn’t last, but the friendship and the love between and Anderson family and the Hamilton family has never wavered in the fifty years that have followed. When we learned of George the 4th’s passing Wednesday night, our eyes filled with tears but our minds overflowed with precious memories.
My former wife, Bette, and George’s wife, Tink, were like sisters. In the early days, when their husbands were both out on the road trying to carve out a place inside the country music business, they kept the children in clean clothes, saw that the lawns were mowed, and good food always in the ‘fridge in anticipation of the day their wandering troubadours would return home. In later years, as Bette began to grow weak from the effects of cancer, Tink was constantly at her side, planting flowers, giving her encouragement, laughing, loving our daughters, and just doing the things longtime friends do for one another. At Bette’s family-only graveside service in 2010, George and Tink were there because they WERE family.
To my daughters, Tink was like a favorite aunt, and they never lost touch with the Hamilton kids, even during the time when their family moved back to North Carolina in the seventies and early eighties. Terri told me as we shared the news of George’s passing, that when the Hamiltons came back to Tennessee, it was like the conversation picked up in mid-sentence. It felt as if they had never left. That happens only in the case of longtime, loving friends.
As recently as a few weeks ago, my son, Jamey, who is James William Anderson IV, was talking with George backstage at the Opry house, and for the ump-teenth time George pointed to the signature “IV” on his stage coat pocket, and said, “You know I want you to have this when I’m gone.” They both laughed, never suspecting that the “when I’m gone” would come so soon.
There’s no way to measure how many miles George and I shared out on tour, both in the U.S., across Canada, and overseas. He opened my eyes to the possibilities of country music reaching far beyond our borders when we performed at the very first International Festival Of Country Music in London back in 1969. He introduced me to music that came from people like Gordon Lightfoot and Joni Mitchell and James Taylor, artists I had been slow to discover on my own. He recorded several of my songs over the years, and we appeared on television together both in the U.K. and here at home. He was regularly in the circle at our Country’s Family Reunion get-togethers, and shared with our viewers some of the most interesting, funny, and poignant stories in the history of those programs.
I got the news of his heart attack Saturday night when I arrived backstage at the Opry. I reached out to the family, and was privileged to spend a few moments with them prior to his passing.
Chip reminded me last night on the phone of how his dad used to talk about his having sung his favorite song, “Life’s Railway To Heaven,” at both his father’s and his grandfather’s funerals. And he would always say, “I hope someday George the 5th will sing it at mine.”
He will, George, and we’ll all be singing it with him. You have “crossed the trestle spanning Jordan’s chilling tide”…..and your train has pulled safely and successfully into the depot. …just as you sang that it would.
For years I carried a clipping in my wallet that read: “The day you were born everyone laughed. You cried alone. Make your life such that in your final hours everyone else is crying and you are the only one without a tear to shed.”
George lived that kind of life. We’ll miss you, pal….but like you sang in the words of another beautiful song written by your son, “We Will Meet Again.”
Thank you for blessing my life.