On Aug. 16, 1977, Dot Gonyea was at home listening to an Elvis Presley record, daydreaming about how she was going to see the king of rock ‘n’ roll from the front row the next night at the new Cumberland County Civic Center.

“I was listening to his beautiful voice, thinking wonderful thoughts,” she said.

Then she got the phone call from her next-door-neighbor with the news.

Elvis was dead.

“I said, ‘That’s certainly not true. He’s alive and well, and is going to make us all happy,'” she replied.

The neighbor urged her to turn on the radio and TV. And as she watched and listened, her wonderful daydream turned into a horrible reality.

“It was like a member of your family dying,” said Gonyea, of South Portland. “I was 12 when I fell madly in love with Elvis. To have him gone at 42 just seemed impossible, especially since he was going to be here the next day.”

Thursday was the 35th anniversary of Presley’s death, and today marks the 35th anniversary of what was supposed to be the first night of a two-night stand in Portland to kick off a new tour.

In Memphis, fans have been gathering all week at Elvis’ home-turned-museum, Graceland, to remember a man who, almost 60 years after his recording debut, is still considered by many to be the biggest star in the history of pop music and the epitome of rock ‘n roll.

Gonyea, now 69, is among them.

She spent two days and nights waiting in line at the Civic Center to get tickets. She had seen Presley’s concert on May 24, 1977, in Augusta, and was determined to get not just any seats, but great ones for the Civic Center show.

She had gotten a call from a friend informing her that Elvis was coming to Portland for two shows. In a flash, she grabbed her daughter Deborah, then 10, and raced to the Civic Center, securing the second place in line.

More than 48 hours later, mother and daughter headed home with 10 front-row center tickets for themselves and their friends (cost: $15 each) and smiles on their faces.

The show was never to be.

In 1978, on the first anniversary of Presley’s death, Gonyea made her first of many treks to Graceland to remember his passing.

Thirty-four years later, she’s back to take part in the week long commemoration. She attended a candelight vigil Wednesday that was attended by Presley’s ex-wife, Priscilla, and daughter, Lisa Marie, and placed a small wooden lobster on Presley’s grave.

“I can’t tell you how many thousands of fans were up and down the streets around Graceland last night, all holding candles,” she said by phone from Memphis on Thursday.

“Every year that we come down here, it’s like a great big family reunion. We all have the same thing in common,” she said.

Alice Dickey, 83, also had tickets to one of Presley’s Portland shows. Like Gonyea, she is a lifelong Elvis fan — she’s a member of the True Fans for Elvis Fan Club, and Gonyea is the club president.

The fan club donated a floral arrangement that included Maine pine cones and boughs to be placed in the Meditation Garden at Presley’s gravesite at Graceland.

Dickey is quietly remembering Presley from her home in South Portland this week.

“I used to go (to Graceland), but I’m 83 years old and don’t travel that much anymore,” she said. “I’m letting the younger people do that.”

Dickey reminisced about making trips to Graceland, and getting a private tour from Presley’s personal nurse, Marian Cocke.

“She picked us up in the car Elvis had bought for her, and we drove up the driveway to Graceland into the garage and then went right into the kitchen, just like Elvis used to do,” she said.

Cocke then took Dickey and her friends out to dinner, she said. “The whole thing was such a thrill.”

Gonyea is still, and will always be, a huge fan of Elvis Presley. She still listens to him all the time.

And she’s keeping the family tradition alive. “I have a new great-granddaughter,” she said. “I bought her an Elvis onesie.”

 

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