TUPELO – If his grave marker is to be believed, Elvis Presley died 33 years ago today.
Yet, somehow, Tupelo’s favorite son still manages to spread goodwill. It’s a mystery Dick Guyton experiences on a regular basis.
Guyton is executive director of the Elvis Presley Memorial Foundation, and he oversees the day-to-day operation of the Elvis Presley Birthplace and Museum.
“Most jobs you enjoy or you don’t. If you enjoy your work, you’re usually good at it,” Guyton, 71, said. “But this is more than enjoyment. This is fun, and most people don’t have fun at work.”
The fun found him when he needed it. A Tupelo native, Guyton had worked in human resources and safety control for the furniture industry for about 45 years. He was working toward retirement, but the company had other plans.
“I got downsized,” he said. “I was devastated. I was 60.”
He did some consulting work, but basically had two years with nothing to do.
It was a difficult time that ended not long after a talk at church with his friend Donna Kaye Randle, a member of the foundation’s board of directors.
“She said they were looking for an executive director. She asked me if I’d be interested,” Guyton recalled. “I said, ‘Donna Kaye, I’d be interested in anything right now.'”
Catching the spirit
Once he started work on July 17, 2002, Guyton was exposed to something special and hard to define.
“I get to see these people, all kinds of people. You can look at them and tell they don’t have much, or you can look at them and tell they have everything,” he said. “It doesn’t matter. They come because of Elvis.
“No matter where they came from, the fans visit one another and they enjoy one another,” Guyton continued. “He has tied so many groups of people together because of his music, his personality, everything about him.”
Guyton attended the two Tupelo concerts that Elvis performed in 1956 and ’57. He’d considered himself a fan.
“Not until I came to work out here did I really understand why people believe in him, and almost worship him, like some of them do,” he said. “It’s hard to explain, but you can feel it.”
The Birthplace doesn’t get many visitors from Tupelo. Guyton said most local residents take it for granted the way he did before he started working out there.
But fans travel from around the world to experience Elvis’ beginnings. Guyton’s seen smiles and tears, and he’s seen strangers turn into friends.
“If you ask me, ‘What makes it fun?'” he said. “That’s it.”
The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll brings people together, but Guyton’s quick to point out that Elvis won all of his Grammy Awards for his gospel songs.
During the 2010 Elvis Presley Festival, the Birthplace hosted a gospel singing. It reminded Guyton of his youth, when his family traveled to his mother’s home church for a day of singing, preaching and eating on the grounds.
As a longtime fan of Southern gospel music, Guyton loved the event, but it wasn’t designed with him in mind.
“We put that together for the fans,” Guyton said. “Afterward, a lady came up and she was boo-hooing. She had lost her father about a year earlier, and she said this brought back so many memories of going to church together. That’s what makes you feel good, when you’ve done something like that.”
If you want glitz and glamour, go to Memphis or Las Vegas.
Guyton said he’s happy to spend his days in Tupelo surrounded by the humble origins of a worldwide story that seems to get bigger with each passing year.
“In my lifetime, I have seen old men retire and … well … they die. They don’t have anything to do anymore,” he said. “No, I don’t have any plans to retire. I’ve got too much to do out here, and I’m having too much fun.”
Contact M. Scott Morris at (662) 678-1589 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
– Dick Guyton said he’s got no complaints with his job as executive director of the Elvis Presley Memorial Foundation.
Still, a man needs to get away every now and then, so he can come back to work fresh.
Fly fishing has been Guyton’s favorite getaway for about 15 years.
On his office wall, he keeps a 20-inch brown trout next to photographs of fishing excursions.
“I tell a lot of people, ‘There’s a difference between fishing and catching. I’m happy just fishing,’ he said. “There’s nothing to bother you. Sometimes, there’s nobody on the river but you. It’s just a joy to be fishing.”
M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal