When I found out that Jeanne Robertson had suddenly passed away, my mind went to the lyrics of the Don McLean’s 1971 song, American Pie. The song is about the death of iconic musicians—the day the music died. But in my heart, August 21, 2021 was the day the laughter died.
A long, long time ago
I can still remember how that music used to make me smile
And I knew if I had my chance that I could make those people dance
And maybe they’d be happy for a while…
In 1990, I was in the process of building my speaking career and not a member of the National Speakers Association. Jeanne called me to give advice on moving forward as a professional speaker. Since we were both Miss America contestants, I was telling one of her pageant stories and giving her credit. But that day I learned many lessons about becoming a respected speaker and the consummate professionalism of Jeanne Robertson.
Over the next thirty years, I studied Jeanne’s masterful craft of speaking and her amazing artistry using original Southern humor. I’ve always said that story is how we speak in the South and Jeanne could spin a tale like no other.
At one of our National Speakers Association Conventions, she asked me to have coffee with her. Jeanne was always working on a new story and she needed some help incorporating words with a “Northern” accent in her speech. Maybe my vocal training helps me with accents, but we worked intently on just a few lines of her new story. Jeanne wanted her delivery to be perfect.
Jeanne was the keynote speaker on many occasions for our National Speakers Convention. During her speech, someone in the audience became ill and literally fell out of his seat into the aisle. Jeanne, stopped her speech and calmly said, “Someone needs medical attention.” Thankfully, it was a non-life threatening situation. After the appropriate amount of time, Jeanne picked up where she left off and continued her presentation.
After her speech, I asked Jerry, (Left Brain) if he knew that something was wrong. He said, “Yes. She left out a few words in her speech.” Jeanne knew her speech and paid attention to every word but you would never know that practically every word was intentionally placed and thought-out.
Our last conversation was only two weeks before Jeanne passed away. She called me to ask the exact title of my book, “Bury Me with My Pearls.” She apologized that the title was listed in her article as, “Bury Me in My Pearls.” Jeanne paid attention to detail; even a small word incorrectly written was important to her.
Jeanne surrounded herself with an amazing team: Jerry (loving husband), Beaver (son), Toni (office manager/friend), Norma Rose (Her best-est friend), Jane Tucker (wardrobe consultant/friend), Al McCree (the Nashville People/friend), Patrick Henry (Saturday Back Porch producer/friend) and many more.
The magic of Jeanne can be summed up in one word—love. Jeanne loved her friends, family, fans, Facebook tribe, and theatre audiences. On August 21, 2021, only three months to the day after Jerry’s memorial service, Jeanne woke up to see the love of her life.
Well, I know that you’re in love with himCause I saw you dancin’ in the gymYou both kicked off your shoesMan, I dig those rhythm and blues
Bye, Bye, Miss American Pie.
In honor of our amazing friend and colleague, Jeanne Robertson let’s vow to keep the laughter alive. Our best tribute to Jeanne is to let her life shine through all of us as a living example to the power of love, laughter and a lasting legacy.
Jane Jenkins Herlong is a SiriusXM Humorist, author of five books and a member of the Speaker Hall of Fame.