George & Nancy: A Love Story
Originally published in our special May 20, 2013 issue featuring George Jones on the cover shortly after his death on April 26 in Nashville at age 81.
It’s just four days after George Jones passed away in a Nashville hospital and his wife of 30 years, Nancy, is still trying to make sense of it all. But it’s not her husband’s death that has her mind occupied—as she says, “We both knew things were happening”—it’s how one man can be so universally loved.
Nancy has been overwhelmed with sympathies and nearly continuous phone calls. She jokes that there are phones ringing at the Franklin, Tenn., home she shared with George that she didn’t even know they had.
But while the love of family, friends and fans for George is great, it nevertheless pales in comparison to the love shared between George and his fourth wife, the former Nancy Sepulvado.
And it all started because of a hesitant trip to see George perform in Rochester, N.Y., in 1981.
“I had a girlfriend of mine who was dating one of his managers, and she kept saying, ‘Come on, go with me,’” recalls Nancy, who lived then in Shreveport, La., and favored classic rock over twangy country. “I’m like, ‘I’m not going up there. I don’t even know him. If you want to go see Creedence Clearwater, I’ll go with you.’ ’Cause that was hot back in those days.”
When Country Weekly sat in during a question-and-answer session George conducted with his granddaughter’s music-history class in February, he joked with Nancy about his version of their meeting.
“A road manager I had at that time brought her from Shreveport, with his girlfriend. She came along for the ride, I think,” George jabbed playfully.
“That ain’t sounding right, ‘I came along for the ride!’” Nancy shot back.
“I invited you. And I got introduced to her in Rochester, New York. I just picked her out of my mind,” George continued, grinning.
“Love at first sight is all you have to say,” Nancy said.
“He was just a wonderful husband. There was not a day go by where George didn’t say, ‘I love you.’”
However it happened, Nancy finally relented to her friend’s request and found herself in a hotel with adjoining rooms to George and his party. Almost instantly, the pair hit it off.
“We set up all night long and talked,” Nancy says, her eyes welling up at the memory. “We scooted down on the floor on the side of the bed and talked and talked. I just felt for him. He had so many mean things that were going on.” (Nancy alludes to George’s infamous drinking and drug abuse, which she and George both referred to as his “bad days.”)
At the end of Nancy’s weekend in Rochester, she says George asked her to stay with him, and that he’d happily take care of her.
“I said, ‘I have to go, I have two kids, I’m divorced, I gotta go to work. I don’t even know you that good!’” recalls Nancy, pointing out that she flew commercial from Shreveport to Rochester, and certainly not direct.
When she arrived home, there was a surprise awaiting her: George Jones.
“He chartered a plane and he was in my driveway before I got home,” she says.
Over the next few days, George went on to play man of the house, throwing himself into a domestic life that, despite three previous marriages, including one to Tammy Wynette, was somewhat foreign to the star.
“I’d come home and he’d have something cooked. He was a hoot. He was a funny little man. The neighbors loved him. Those kids would all come over and he’d tell all kinds of stories, and my kids, they just loved him,” Nancy says. “It got to where we were having a good time.”
So good, in fact, that with George’s prodding, she took a leave of absence from her job making telephones.
“I never went back,” she says. “That was November of ’81.” The couple married two years later in 1983. “I pick at him and say it took him two years to realize I was there, but that was a joke.”
Still, George’s drinking was anything but, and George’s home at the time, in Alabama, was a revolving door of shady characters, Nancy says.
“People would just walk in and go, ‘I’m going to take this TV, George. He’s not going to watch it anyway.’ I met a whole different kind of people. He got involved with some bad people and I can’t say I wasn’t scared,” Nancy says.
After stints in Louisiana, Texas and then Brentwood, Tenn., the couple finally settled on 78 acres in nearby Franklin, where landscaping and other outside chores helped rejuvenate George.
“Then it turned into fun. Because he had this big project to do of clearing land. He loved to see something built,” she says.
Many have credited Nancy with turning George’s life around, helping him cast aside the demons that plagued him through the bulk of his years. She humbly agrees with that.
“I really think it’s true and I’ll tell you why: because he’s told me enough. George really wanted to straighten up, but I think he just figured, ‘I’ve always had my marriages crash, and I don’t know if this one is that solid.’ Then when he realized it really was, he quit everything,” she says.
So what was George really like?
A lot of people think he was Mr. Tough George Jones. George was very religious. Even back in the bad days, I could always calm him down by saying, “You better believe your mom is watching you.” Or “God’s really mad right now.” And he would calm down. He really was a very religious person.
What was your typical night at home?
He had his little room and I had the bedroom, but we had this thing where we closed off that room and we’d go in and watch Matlock. At 9 o’clock, I’d help him sort out his pills, what he’s supposed to take the next day, we’d brush our teeth, get into bed, and it was like, “OK, movie time!” We would watch movies until 2 o’clock in the morning.
At this, Nancy brightens. Her look makes it plainly evident that these two however unlikely souls, the blue-collar girl who made telephones and the hard-living country star, were destined to be together. Just prior to George’s death, they celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary and George, ever the protector, made preparations for Nancy to be taken care of after he was gone.
“I keep thinking about that. . . . He’d call our business managers and lawyers, and say, ‘Don’t let anyone take advantage or hurt her,’” Nancy recalls.
“He knew he was dying, he really did. He would tell me every night, ‘Don’t cry. Be strong. Remember all the things I’ve taught you.’”
Sadly, George was right. But he—and his adoring wife—were certain he’d end up in the right place.
“As he said, ‘If God wants to take me, I’m going to heaven, and I’m ready,’” Nancy says, her eyes moistening again.
“He was just a wonderful husband. There was not a day go by where George didn’t say, ‘I love you.’ We’d go out to eat and he’d want to hold hands. George was wonderful. And we enjoyed the last year together 24/7, never away from each other’s side.”