A Legacy of Love

Story by Jeannie Stone

THREE BELLS from the infamous village chapel hidden deep in the valley did not ring for Bonnie and Dr. Gene Ring on their wedding day 50 years ago. The song, made famous by Bonnie and her siblings — Maxine and Jim Ed of the country singing group The Browns — was already a number one hit worldwide when the young couple slipped over the state line to wed in secrecy.

Bonnie, a native of Sparkman, was a career
musician when she met Gene, known to friends and family by the name “Brownie.” They became acquainted through mutual friends when he was a junior in medical school in Little Rock.

“I never dated musicians because I was on the road so much, and I knew how they were,” she said, matter-of-factly, so she accepted an invitation to a cookout where she laid eyes on Brownie.

“It was love a first sight,” he said.

She agreed. “He just swept me off my feet.”
A few months of dating convinced the duo to tighten the knot. “We slipped over to Hernando, Mississippi,” Bonnie said, “He learned of it from his Navy friends when he was in the service. There was no waiting time. In fact, later on my brother and his friend both went over there to get married, too.”

The law of the land at the time required the couple to travel to Memphis to submit blood samples.

“They kept sticking me with the needle, and I almost changed my mind,” Bonnie said.

Humor is one of the mutual attractions. “Oh, he has a great sense of humor,” she said. “He can make me laugh just by wiggling his ears.”

The first thing that comes out of Brownie’s mouth when asked what attracted him to his bride-to-be is her beauty. “I had never seen anybody as pretty as she was,” he said. “Being in medical school like I was, I shouldn’t have been drawn to someone in that way, but I was smitten, and I couldn’t help it.”

The Rings kept the wedding mum for a few weeks until Bonnie could break it to her manager. All ended well with the tour.

“They were touring like crazy,” Brownie said.

Brownie didn’t worry about his new wife because she traveled with her family and was busy in the flurry of commitments and concerts.

“And I was always her number one, and she was always mine,” he said.

The couple settled in Dardanelle and raised a family of two daughters, Kelly Ring, a news anchor in Tampa, Florida, and Robin Shaver, a mother and wife in Little Rock. Bonnie quit performing except for special occasions to devote her energies to her family. Although she had retained her voting status as a member of the Grand Old Opry, the demands were too great, and she resigned from that as well.

“Even with two children, I continued to tour and just keeping up with that and my family was really tough, but the Grand Old Opry required members to make 26 appearances a year on top of doing our own concerts and making appearances. It was hard to give up, but I was at peace, and I was fine with it,” Bonnie said.

The couple’s one-level country home, surrounded by land and horses, is both serene and exciting at the same time. Once the front door opens, the décor reflects Bonnie’s travels. She has a passion for Oriental art and furniture, and pops of red add spice.

Brownie retired from a career serving the patients in Dardanelle, and they both enjoy traveling with friends and family now.

“We didn’t have time when he was in practice,” Bonnie said.

Bonnie, who has always enjoyed cooking, loves to try new recipes especially French sauces, but she is a great fan of her cast-iron skillet.

“The first thing I do when I visit my daughters is season their skillets for them,” she said. “Everybody needs a cast-iron skillet. After all, I love country music and country food because that’s what I am.”

Brownie, dubbed by his father who, upon his birth remarked that he finally had his ‘Brownie’ (referring to the brown eyes he shared with his mother.) The retired physician spends his days pursuing golf and working in the garden.

He planted 2,000 jonquils last year,” Bonnie said.

Though the Rings didn’t begin their marriage with a church service, they have been longtime members of First Presbyterian Church in Dardanelle. Brownie served as an elder for many years, and Bonnie has recently been named an elder as well.

“I’d rather be a ‘younger,’”she said between laughs, “but they’ve gone and made me an elder.”

Daughters Kelly and Robin were in their 30s before they married.

“They used to ask me all the time how they would know if a man was the right one for them. I said, ‘Oh, you will know,’ and they both found and married wonderful and sweet husbands, and within a few years we had five grandchildren.”

Kelly, a television news anchor for WTVT in Tampa, is married to Ed Bulleit and together they have three children, 13-year old Clark, 11-year old Kendall and 8-year old Raleigh. Daughter Robin, a wife and mother, is married to Dr. Robert Shaver, a pathologist at Arkansas Baptist Hospital. They are parents to 15-year old Skylar and 9-year old Shaver.

“Our grandchildren are so precious to us,” Bonnie said. “They call me BonBon, and they call Brownie Pap-aw. My heart melts every time I hear them call our names.”

Recently, the daughters and their husbands threw a 50th wedding anniversary party for the Rings at Savanah’s Restaurant in Dardanelle. Printed on the invitation was a request for no gifts: “Your love is a treasured gift; we request no other.”

One of the highlights of the affair was the slide show the children made for their parents.

“It was so special because we didn’t have wedding pictures,” Bonnie said. “Instead, we have this wonderful testament of our lives together, and I couldn’t believe the perfect music they selected to accompany the pictures.”

“One of those songs was Vince Gil’s ‘Look at Us.’ It’s one of my favorites, and it’s perfect for our marriage. When asked what song would serve as the theme song for their lives, Bonnie hesitates just for a moment. “Oh, my goodness, it would be hard to choose just one. ‘Look at Us’ would certainly be good but ‘Memories’ by Elvis Presley is another good song,” Bonnie said. “I love anything good, especially gospel or country. I really like cotton-patch music.”

Brownie admits he never inherited the music gene.

“He’s got no rhythm whatsoever,”Bonnie said, “and he’s not a good dancer. When we’re out on the dance floor, I always ask him to let me lead, and at church I ask him not to sing too loud.”

These opposites have stuck together in an agreeable relationship, however.

“I think,” Brownie said, “we’ve lasted because each of us gives and shares and helps the other. If she wants to do something, I’m for it, and if I want to do something, she’s for it. We’re kind of easy going with each other, and I love her today more than I did on that first date.”

Bonnie smiles. “Being married 50 years is not all a bed of roses, you know, but you constantly work at if you love each other.”

“We thought for a while at Christmas time when everyone was coming in that we might want to renew our vows,” Bonnie said. “But we thought about it and decided we didn’t really need that little church wedding after all.”

 

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