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Naomi Judd, who spent much of her earlier years as a registered nurse, was able to reconnect with her former nursing supervisor over Veterans Day in a special parade that took place in Manchester, Tenn.
However, Althea Cimino was much more than just a boss to Naomi; she also served as a mother figure and an inspiration that has helped shape the woman she is today.
“She was just the bomb,” Naomi tells Country Weekly in our exclusive chat with the iconic singer. “She was beautiful and was gracious. She was so kind to me, and I was a renegade nurse. She just got me. After [The Judds’] first CMA Awards, I got this little note from her . . . and she said, ‘Honey, you sang so pretty . . . you looked so nice, and I’m so proud of you.’ Unfortunately, my own mom, who was her own age, never told me she loves me or that she’s proud of me. She just can’t. My mom’s had a real hard life. Althea became that fantasy figure to me. Every Christmas she would send me a Christmas card. She would always tell me what was going on with her kids . . . she is a total angel.”
So when Naomi was approached to present Althea with an award at the annual parade, which had her being the first woman to be recognized and honored for her time served as a nurse during the Korean War, she cleared her schedule.
“She was sitting in the crowd, and I had to pass out all sabers and do all the speeches,” recalls Naomi as her eyes glisten with tears. “I knew it was her. I could just tell, even though it’s been 30 years. She kept grinning at me like she was going to jump out of her seat, but we had to hold her until the very end. It was so thrilling and so exciting.
“All of her kids had come in for this,” continued Naomi. “They were hiding in the audience, though. They stayed at friends’ houses the night before. Then, when a friend picked her up to take her to the ceremony, they went out to her house, cleaned it and put out food for us to celebrate afterwards.”
Althea was one of eight veterans honored at the parade that took place on Veterans Day – a holiday near and dear to Naomi’s heart.
“I have always felt that Veterans Day should be more than it is,” notes Naomi. “It’s always been one of my favorite holidays. Even as a child, my family always said that I had this awareness and consciousness of being grateful. The entire day and the parade was so all-American. I just felt like I was a big neon sign flashing red, white and blue all day! I was covered in hugs and kisses, and everybody was all smiles. It was so patriotic and so Norman Rockwell. What a memory. I will never forget it as long as I live.”
At the end of the ceremony, event founder Tim Brown surprised Naomi with a plaque and sword of her own for her dedication to the veterans of Manchester.