Ailing country music legend Randy Travis managed to say only four words on stage Saturday in his hometown of Marshville. But it was clear the Union County native was happy to be among family and friends, staying for nearly 2 1/2 hours to pose for photos and listen to fans talk about his music.
The occasion was a small town ceremony to unveil signs that will alert highway motorists to the fact that they are passing through the “Home of Randy Travis.”
Travis attended in a wheelchair and didn’t try to stand, due to a 2013 stroke that left him partially paralyzed and with limited ability to speak.
“Thank you very much,” he told the crowd gathered on the town’s Main Street.
The response was “roaring excitement at the very sight of him,” said Kay Strawn, of the town’s Chamber of Commerce.
“It was emotional for all of us, because he came so close to death with his stroke, and this moment almost passed us by,” said Strawn, who attended the same church as Travis growing up. “We got to say just how much we appreciated him. And we could see from that wide grin that it was just as emotional for him. I bet he hasn’t smiled that much in the three years (since his stroke).”
Strawn added that Travis was gracious with fans Saturday. “Anybody what wanted a picture with him was allowed to do so,” she said.
Travis was also presented with keys to the city by Marshville Mayor Franklin Deese. Marshville is a town of 2,040 people, about 35 miles east of Charlotte. “Charlotte may have the Panthers. South Carolina may have Clemson, but Marshville has and always will have the greatest country singer of all time,” said Deese in his presentation.
Travis’ wife, Mary Travis, seemed to fight back tears at times as she spoke on his behalf during the ceremony.
“Thank you so much for your kind words and your open arms. There’s not many places you can go back to after 58 years and have that same kind of warm feeling. … I’ll tell you, he’s an awful special man from a very special place. Thank you for honoring him today and allowing him to be the son of Marshville.”
“He’s become so humble. … It’s heartwarming to see him recognized for his gift,” Marshville resident Amy Nance told radio station WYRK after the ceremony.
The highway signs will be erected at the east and west entrances of the Union County town next week, along U.S. 74, officials said. Marshville had signs dedicated to Travis up for years, but they were removed in 2014.
Mayor Deese said the old sign bearing Travis’ name was taken down because it was in disrepair, but he said that didn’t stop concerned fans from calling about it. “I didn’t know so many people from all over the country could find my phone number. They wanted to know: Why did you take the sign down that this was the home of Randy Travis?”
Travis, who now lives in Texas, got his start playing nightclubs in Charlotte. He moved to Nashville and became an instant hit in 1986 with the release of the album “Storms of Life.” In the years that followed, he sold more than 25 million records and earned 20-plus No. 1 hits. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame last year and stood to sing a shaky version of “Amazing Grace.”