NASHVILLE, Tenn. — For a guy who sang so many sad songs, George Jones left behind a lot of laughs.
There was more humor than sadness at Jones' funeral Thursday at the Grand Ole Opry House as thousands gathered in Nashville — some arriving hours before sunrise — to pay their respects to the man whose voice has defined country music for more than half a century.
Friend after friend related stories of Jones' kindness, his love for his widow, Nancy, who's credited with helping him survive his personal demons later in life, and the funny little moments that will stick with them always.
Barbara Mandrell remembered the kindnesses he gave a scared 13-year-old girl just getting her start in the business. Former first lady Laura Bush remembered dumping quarter after quarter into the jukebox to hear "The Race Is On." Wynonna Judd remembered his perfect hair and his friendship. And Vince Gill remembered the man who gave him the nickname "Sweet Pea," a moniker he wasn't sure he liked at first but now treasures.
"The great thing is every time someone calls me Sweet Pea, I'll get to think about him," Gill said before earning a standing ovation for his rendition of "Go Rest High on That Mountain" with Patty Loveless.
The nearly 3-hour memorial was attended by several major country stars and political figures. Nancy Jones sat flanked by Bush and Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam spoke, as did former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. CBS host Bob Schieffer recalled a 2009 interview with Jones where the singer's true personality seemed to show through.
"I came away feeling his whole life was a surprise to him and he never quite believed any of it," Schieffer said.