Gamble honored for lifetime love, support of arts

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 19, 2007

Greenville's own grande dame of the arts was honored on a state level this week.

 Roberta &#8220Bobbie” Gamble was one of seven Alabama residents/groups honored during the Alabama Council of the Arts' 40th anniversary gala Wednesday night.

Several dozen current and former Greenville residents, some from as far away as New York City, North Carolina, Atlanta and St. Petersburg, Fla., gathered at the Davis Theatre to be a part of &#8220Miss Bobbie's big night.”

Prior to the &#8220Celebration of the Arts” program held at the Davis, Horace Horn of the Alabama Electric Cooperative and his wife, Linda, welcomed guests to a pre-show reception held in very swanky digs - the Penthouse Suite of the RSA Towers, no less.

 Many Greenvillians and their guests stopped in enjoy an array of hors d'oeuvres, including a delicious crab fondue, and a chance to tour the beautiful suite. The spectacular view from the balcony area of the penthouse proved a not-to-be-missed event.

A number of the ladies appearing in the surprise performance of &#8220Strongest Suit” as part of the evening's tribute to Gamble were also on hand. One of those was Marianne Russell, who didn't show any signs of stage fright pre-show.

&#8220I'm just excited. Ready to get on stage again,” laughed Russell, referring to the fun and camaraderie she and fellow cast members had enjoyed performing in the recent &#8220Puttin' on the Ritz” fundraiser for the Greenville Area Arts Council.

Dr. Betty Ruth Speir, former Greenville resident and a member of the GAAC, declared herself thrilled to be a part of Miss Bobbie's special night.

&#8220I'm just so glad I could be here for this. Nobody deserves it more than Bobbie does,” Speir said.

Gamble's many supporters were evident as cheers went up across the theatre when Gamble's name was announced that evening.

One might say they saved &#8220the best recipient for last,” with Gamble as the final honoree celebrated that evening.

A video featuring a number of Gamble's former drama students and current GAAC members brought laughter and some tears, as Miss Bobbie's fans shared stories of how the retired drama teacher and (never-retired) arts supporter had positively influenced their lives.

Greenvillians Ann Daughtry, Tom Payne, Todd Henderson, Sandy Rodgers, Angela Garrett, T. K. and Kayla Lee, Tom Braxton, Jill Stallworth and Nancy Idland all appeared in the video paying tribute to the grande dame.  &#8220I'll be honest, I took Drama in high school thinking it would make a great cut class, but then I discovered I loved it. Thank you, Miss Bobbie,” Rodgers said.

Teenager Kayla Lee, a &#8220Ritz” performer who has been attending GAAC productions &#8220since I could walk,” commented with a smile, &#8220When I grow up, I want to be like you, Miss Bobbie.”

Tom Payne, one of Gamble's original Old Gym Players at Greenville High School, sent his mentor love and congratulations.  As the video drew to a close, another OGP, Tom Braxton, was seen standing in front of the Greenville's fabled Ritz, &#8220the house Gamble restored.” An exuberant Braxton threw up his hands, grinned and declared, &#8220Miss Bobbie, on with the show!”

And what a show it was.

With Gamble's face seen live on the big screen behind them, the &#8220Strongest Suit” ladies appeared in all their Technicolor glory, with Sabrina Reynolds' powerhouse voice in fine form on lead vocals and Patricia Ballew and April Lowery providing strong backup vocals.

&#8220You have to say, we were a bright spot in the show,” Stallworth later said with a grin.

Appearing on stage that night along with Reynolds, Lowery, Ballew, Russell, Stallworth and Lee, were Olivia Autrey, Nancy Idland, Jennifer Burkett, Linda Horn, Ann Daughtry, Angela James and Rosemary Russell.

As for Gamble herself, the honoree says it still seems like a dream.

&#8220I can't believe all this was done for me. It's just amazing,” she said.

&#8220To have my lovely daughter Genie by my side, to see all my girls on the stage that night - well, that was the BEST part of the evening for me, certainly. They really put one over on me with that performance!”

She said she was also deeply touched by the presentation for the Gee's Bend quilters, who were also honored that evening.

&#8220Those wonderful, plain-spoken womenŠand the gospel singer and choir that followed the video were tremendous. That was the highest point of the evening for everyone there, I suspect.”

Gamble said the buffet dinner served at the Governor's Mansion prior to the gala celebration, also proved a grand treat for all the honorees.

&#8220The food was wonderful and the governor and his wife were so gracious. It was a lovely experience.”

All in all, Gamble says, it has been &#8220a heady season” for her.

&#8220I have many wonderful memories and so much to be thankful for, that's for sure.”

Other honored Wednesday night were the artist Nall, jewelry and fashion designer Kathy Chan, actor/director/producer Paul Looney, symphony conductor Thomas Hinds, bluesman Jerry &#8220Boogie” McCain and the quilter of Gee's Bend.