My 'Date' With Barbara Mandrell

My 'date' with Barbara Mandrell.

My 'Date' With Barbara Mandrell

It was 1982, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. At the time, I was a four-year veteran law enforcement officer and I was currently in my second year with the Baton Rouge Police Department (the first two years were served with the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office). I arrived for my "extra-duty" assignment, a regular one for me, as security at the Baton Rouge Centroplex, for a scheduled Barbara Mandrell concert. As I said, this was a regular duty for me, on my time off, and as such, I had a regular position which I knew like the back of my hand. That position was "stage door."

Like the rest of the regulars there, I attended roll call, which was headed by two, well-known and respected Lieutenants, one of which would become the departments Chief in just a few more years from then. Roll call was held just to make certain everybody was present and accounted for, therefore guaranteeing that all of the positions would be covered. One of the Lieutenants informed us that tonight would have a little extra addition to everything else that routinely took place in one of these events. 

That addition was that immediately following the concert, the Lieutenant would escort Barbara from the stage, to her tour bus, right outside the stage door, prior to the fans showing up for autographs. Barbara would change outfits and then the Lieutenant would escort her back into the Centroplex, to the "Red Stick Room," where a wine-and-cheese party, for then Louisiana governor candidate Sonny Mouton was being held. All I was needed for was to keep the stage door secure until after the Lieutenant and Barbara returned from the party, to her bus.

Sometimes, plans get altered and it's usually when one (or two) least expect it. This would be one of those occasions. 

Before concerts get underway, my job was to secure the stage door, making certain that all coming in were wearing their proper ID cards around their necks and providing directions to the various dressing rooms when asked. Now, one of the reasons I was given this assignment at my relatively young age of 25, was that I was a stickler for details. For example, I had a schedule for all upcoming concerts to be held at the Centroplex; that way I knew if I would be free (from regular duty) to work them and get my name on the list. I took this knowledge one step further as well. That is, I would research to see who the "primary players" were and their roles and how that might affect me. That information also came in handy a number of times in knowing the "players" by name. Add that fact to this evening.

I was standing in my usual spot, when a gentleman, wearing a three-piece suit, approached me. Now, I'll admit, that at any other time, I would have been hard-pressed to tell you who he was. However, I had already done my research and as such, I extended my hand (for shaking hands) while saying "good evening Mr. Mandrell and welcome to Baton Rouge." It was quite evident that I caught him totally by surprise, by the expression on his face and his reply to me. "Well, thank you Officer, do you know me?" I grinned and said "well, now, I wouldn't be much of a fan of your daughter if I didn't know her dad, Irby Mandrell when I see him, now would I?" He laughed a genuine, deep down laugh and said I had him there, he guessed I was right on the money. In a more serious tone, he said "I have to tell you Officer Cowart, that in all of the cities we've covered in this tour, you, sir, are the first official to recognize me as for who I am to Barbara and call me by name. I appreciate that and I'm not ashamed to tell you, I'm impressed." I made a mental note to myself to NEVER give up my research.

Mr. Mandrell wasn't a "hit & run" type of guy either. He stood around, chatting with me and, I noted, was watching as I dutifully didn't miss anybody walking in, asked to see their ID, if it wasn't in plain view. At some point, he reached into his rear pocket and removed his wallet. From his wallet, he removed a black & white photo of a young man, wearing a Tennessee Highway Patrol Uniform (with the blooming pants and high leather boots) standing next to a Tennessee Highway Patrol Harley-Davidson motorcycle. He showed it to me and asked if the man in the photo looked familiar. Taking a close look, then a double-take, I looked straight at him and asked, with sincere surprise, "Mr. Mandrell, is that you?" He smiled broadly and replied, "yes sir! I was with  the highway patrol for four years." Frankly, I had no idea and I learned the photo I was now holding, was taken in 1947. 

A few more minutes of chatting and Mr. Mandrell excused himself to go and see if Barbara was about ready to take the stage. He turned and headed in the direction of the stage door but then turned back around and asked "Ron, would you like to escort Barbara to a wine & cheese party, right after the concert tonight?" I smiled and said, "Mr. Mandrell, I would love to be her escort, however, my Lieutenant has already informed us that he is her escort this evening." Mr. Mandrell smiled, in a most fatherly way and replied "no disrespect to your Lieutenant but I'm the one who chooses who her escort is. Besides, I've not even met your Lieutenant." Well, I knew this could come back and haunt me for many years on down the road, so I quickly smiled and said "Mr. Mandrell, trust me; it would be an honor and a pleasure to be Barbara's escort, however, I have to tell you, I hold this particular Lieutenant in high regard, not to mention the fact that I will still answer to him, when y'all are on the road home."

Again, he gave me what must have been a signature smile for him and said, son, don't you worry about a thing. I wouldn't put you in harms way for anything. Just trust me.

Well, now, folks, he walked off and I don't mind telling you, I wasn't feeling real comfortable. I mean, let's face it, I had a good gig and that gig was fast looking like it's lifespan was nearing an end. Therefore, you can imagine what I was thinking when the Lieutenant, whom we had just discussed, appeared and was walking in my direction. I thought he wasn't even going to wait until after the concert, for my day of "reckoning."

Did I mention that I liked this particular Lieutenant and had a great deal of respect for him? Allow me to provide but one example as to why I felt that way.

The Lieutenant walked up to me and asked how everything was going. I replied it was smooth as silk and we were about to get the show started. He asked me if I would be available to take his place and escort Barbara to the party after the concert. I looked at him, searching for the slightest hint that he was about to lay into me and I replied "I thought you were doing that Lieutenant." He said he wasn't feeling well and it would assist him greatly if I could handle it. He then went on to instruct me on how I was to stand by the stage, during the concert and immediately after ending the show, I was to escort Barbara aboard her bus, while she went to the back and changed outfits. I was then to escort her back through the Centroplex, to the Red Stick Room and stay with her, by her side, for the entire time she needed me to. Then, escort her back to the bus and go home.

A few minutes after the Lieutenant left, Mr. Mandrell reappeared and asked me if I had received my new assignment yet. I said "yes sir but I have to ask you, how in the world did you do it so that it worked out I was doing him a favor?!?" Mr. Mandrell laughed and said Ron, I'm Barbara's bus driver and her manager. One thing I've learned, over the years in this position, is to handle the "light work," and this was "light." He winked, walked off and that was the last time I ever saw Irby Mandrell.

At the time, when Barbara Mandrell and her group, the "Do-Rights" performed, their stage was unique in that it was round and in the center of the Centroplex, as opposed to be long and positioned at one end. She came in and met me and told me that the only additional request that she had was this. "Ron, I plan on staying no more then ten minutes at the party. When I squeeze your hand and smile, that's your cue to get me out of there and back to the bus." She added that the party would be crowded, meaning to not let go of her hand, lest we got separated. Everything went well, from escorting her to the bus, through a party full of half-drunk socialites who asked me what I was doing in there. Barbara smiled at the individual and said "ain't I lucky? He's my date for the evening." She smiled and winked at me and said nobody would remember she ever said that. Well, I beg to differ.

Right on schedule, Barbara squeezed my hand, smiled and I looked her square in the eye and said "let's go!" We walked hand-in-hand back across the Centroplex floor, out the stage door and onto the bus. I looked and said Barbara, there must be four or five hundred people out here! She said, yeah, I need to sign some autographs. I told her I wasn't leaving her alone with that crowd. She smiled, hugged me and said I was sweet and she appreciated it.

Folks, she signed autographs for EVERY SINGLE PERSON out there (including me - see the photo below)! I worked two more hours watching over her and wouldn't trade it for anything!

That is the story behind "my date with Barbara Mandrell."

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