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The legendary George Jones was given a moving—and fitting—salute during his public funeral service at the Grand Ole Opry House today (May 2). Fellow artists, family and dignitaries traveled from far and wide to bid the Possum farewell and share memories of his life.
Tanya Tucker opened the proceedings by reading the poem "I'm Free," then singing "Old Rugged Cross" with vocal group The Imperials.
"How appropriate it is that we're gathering at the Grand Ole Opry," remarked former Opry announcer Keith Bilbrey, who shared emcee duties with WSM-AM on-air personality and Opry announcer Eddie Stubbs.
Guest speaker Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam noted that George had added to the state's "luster" and was someone who "has changed the trajectory of how people think about our state."
Moving musical tributes continued with Randy Travis singing "Amazing Grace" and The Oak Ridge Boys performing "Farther Along." Charlie Daniels delivered "Softly and Tenderly," Travis Tritt offered "Why Me Lord" and Kid Rock sang "Best of Me."
Speaker tributes included CBS correspondent Bob Schieffer, Kenny Chesney, Opry manager Pete Fisher, Governor Mike Huckabee and former first lady Laura Bush, who noted that George W. likes to listen to "White Lightning" when he works out.
Barbara Mandrell praised George's talent, saying, "When our heavenly father created George, he gifted him with a magnificent, supremely unparalleled voice." She also recalled with fondness how, when she was a 13-year-old steel-guitar prodigy, George had asked her to play steel with his band on a Johnny Cash package show. "He left his lasting imprint on my heart, all of our hearts," she added.
The service's emotional peak came when Vince Gill and Patty Loveless took the stage. George, Vince said, "taught us all how to sing with a broken heart." The two traditionalists joined on "Go Rest High on That Mountain," with Vince getting choked up in the middle and Patty laying a hand on his shoulder to help him through. There wasn't a dry eye in the house.
Before she sang "How Great Thou Art," Wynonna marveled at George's perfect head of hair, and lamented his passing. "We have lost a national treasure," she said with a sigh.
After a benediction from George's pastor Mike Wilson, there was one more performance. The silent giant Alan Jackson strode onto the stage and performed George's classic heartbreaker "He Stopped Loving Her Today," saying only, "We love you, George!"
Indeed we do, and we'll miss him dearly.