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Wallace dearly missed at Hank Fest

Something seemed to be missing from the 31st Annual Hank Williams Festival in Georgiana last weekend. The good music, festival food and arts and crafts were all there. But the woman who had been its heart and soul for many years was just a memory.

Mary Wallace, the woman who helped co-found the Hank Williams International Fan Club in 1993 and who played an integral part in the festival over the years, was absent for the first time. Wallace died in a tragic accident in her home last December.

“There was a kind of heaviness you felt in the crowd Friday night, this sense something was gone that should have been there,” Priscilla Davis of Greenville, a long-time festival attendee, said on Saturday.

“It’s been hard without Mary. It’s been kind of touch-and-go all week, emotion-wise,” said Ann Browder, Georgiana city clerk.

“It didn’t seem to take much to get people upset thinking about Mary.”

Suzie Shepherd, president of the Georgiana Garden Club, said she missed Wallace’s energy and enthusiasm.

“She was such a driving force for the festival, and it’s hard to think we won’t see her again here,” Shepherd said.

The ladies of the Three Arts Club, who sell a souvenir program each year at the festival, devoted two pages in this year’s program to Wallace.

Hank Museum manager Margaret Gaston penned a tribute to Wallace for it, describing her as a “wholesome, energetic, always-smiling, multi-talented, workaholic ambassador of good will.”

During Friday’s Songwriting Contest, contestant Vinnie D’Amico told the audience how shocked and saddened he had been to hear of Wallace’s passing.

Her death spurred D’Amico to pen a song in her memory, “Christmas in Heaven,” which was played at Wallace’s memorial service in the spring.

Several festival performers acknowledged Wallace on stage for her dedication to the festival and to all things Hank.

On Saturday night, Jett Williams made a special presentation of a memorial plaque in Wallace’s honor on stage to her granddaughter, Lakesha, and the president and vice-president of the HWIFC, John Wise and Sherri Brackin.

Browder credits Brackin, who organized Wallace’s memorial service at the Ga-Ana Theater, with helping make the 2010 festival “go smoothly.”

“When you lose someone like Mary, you have to have somebody with lots of energy to take her place, and Sherri has that,” said Browder.

“I have to give her credit for all the hard work she’s put in over the last several months. She did a great job with that memorial for Mary, and she has put a lot of hard work and enthusiasm into this event.”

According to Browder, Brackin has made it clear she is not trying “to take over things.”

“Sherri just wants to keep this going, just like Mary would have wanted us to do,” Browder said.

While overall attendance numbers seemed to be down this year, Davis expressed hope the festival would continue for many more years in downtown Georgiana.

“You don’t want something as big as Bama Jam, certainly, but you want to have a mix of music to appeal to different tastes. There are some wonderful performers here each year and a nice family feeling to this event,” Davis said.

“I would certainly hate to see this fizzle away.”

Brackin agrees. “We’re going to keep this alive, just the way Mary would have expected us to do. It’s been hard without her, but we aren’t giving up.”