Remembering Val
(Mrs. Carl) Perkins

November 18, 2005, courtesy
           Valda "Val" Perkins was a spirited redhead who didn't let her beloved husband Carl's fame get to him or her. A rockabilly legend he may have been around the world, but she told her kids, "Your daddy's a big star in England. I'll just have to whip him into shape when he gets home." And it wasn't long until he was working on his "honey-do" list.
           Thursday, November 17, 2005, she was laid to rest beside her husband in Ridgecrest Cemetery, the pink pall of roses over her casket a reminder that he cut fresh roses and brought them to her every day he was home. It didn't matter where they were in the house - at 10 p.m., they sat and watched Andy Griffith together.
           Carl Perkins died on Jan. 19, 1998, and for nearly eight years since then, every night Val folded his pajamas and laid them on his side of the bed. "Mama was just lost without him," wrote her daughter, Debbie Swift, describing all the little things in their lives that mean so much to her. Debbie's daughter Suzanne Swift read her mother's words to more than 200 family members and friends at the North Chapel of George A. Smith & Sons Funeral Home in Jackson.
           A portrait of Val and Carl Perkins sat on an easel at the right side of her casket. At left, there was a portrait of her with a song inscribed below it, "The Most Beautiful Girl." It was a service of music and memories, with "Precious Memories" and "Amazing Grace" a part of it, along with "Silver and Gold," written by Carl and sons Stan and Greg, sung by Paula Bridges with guitar accompaniment. But friends and family say Val, a pianist and singer herself, inspired the song that Dolly Parton made famous.
           Bridges also sang yet another favorite, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." Juvenile Court Judge Christy Little, a longtime family friend, performed "I'll Be Loving You Always."
           Dr. Don Thrasher, pastor of Northside United Methodist Church, gave the eulogy, recalling a story he'd heard about Val Perkins' spirit. He said she and Carl had been invited to a dinner at the White House, and she had taken longer than usual getting ready. Carl, growing impatient, had gone on to the dinner. When she arrived at the gate, at first the guards weren't going to let her pass. But she told them she certainly was going to that dinner, and she did.
           Thrasher also said that it was Val who gave her husband the confidence he needed. Perkins wrote and recorded "Blue Suede Shoes" in 1955. By April 1956, it was Sun Records' first million-selling single. But he didn't have the confidence early on that he was good, "and she's the one who told him how talented he was and kept him going."
           Yet even though she usually stayed out of the limelight, she knew how to wield her influence. Family friend Henry Harrison told this story: "When we were working on the child abuse center, Valda was actually the one who organized everything. She said she knew there wasn't enough money to start the center, but she said, 'Don't tell Carl.'
           "Back in the day, Carl would be No. 1 on the shows, the Statlers would be second and Johnny Cash third," Harrison said. "When the Statlers came by the house, she'd fix them ham, eggs and big, fluffy biscuits with butter and blueberry jam.
           "She told me, 'You go to Marshall Grant (manager of the Statlers) and tell him if he'll get the boys down here to do a show for Carl, I'll fix them ham, eggs and those big, fluffy biscuits with blueberry jam. That's all they're going to get, and we'll renew those days.' "In a few weeks, Marshall called back and said, 'If this center will be in Carl's name and no one else is getting any money out of it, we'll do it.' The Statlers' concert raised $37,000 for the Carl Perkins Center," Harrison said, adding, "Carl used to tell me country music was the rock in rockabilly. Well, Valda was the rock in Carl Perkins' life."
           Carl's sister Martha Bain said whatever life tossed in their way, she and Val - both her sister-in-law and best friend since high school - would smile at each other and quote this line from Val's favorite Bible verse, the 23rd Psalm: "My cup runneth over."
           It was hard for Wes Henley, a well-known local musician, to say goodbye to the woman he considered his second mother and to think about Carl, who was such a mentor and father figure. "Carl and Val were all about love," Henley said. "There's no question that they loved each other. They were like second parents to me. Carl was best man at my wedding. Once I had minor surgery, and when I woke up, he was there beside me. When I needed a job, he gave me one. They were wonderful people."
           Although family and friends grieved for Val's passing, Thrasher gave them this image - that Val and Carl are sitting at the piano in heaven singing a duet and overjoyed to see each other.
           Val and Carl had been married 44 years at the time of his death, on Jan. 19, 1998. She leaves four children and their spouses: Debbie Swift and her husband, Bart; Stan Perkins and his wife, Connie; Steve Perkins and his wife, Donna; and Greg Perkins and his wife, Dawn, all of Jackson. At her passing, she also leaves nine grandchildren, Shannon Langley, Carla Simmons, Suzanne Swift, Lesleigh Woodward, Jay Perkins, Chase Perkins, Matthew Watkins, Jonathan Watkins and Cody Watkins; four great-grandchildren; and a sister, Clara Crider, of Linden.
- Jacque Hillman

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