HOPKINS COUNTY, Ky. (5/8/13) – Barbara Jean Preston Swain passed away April 29th.
I didn’t know Barbara.

I know of Barbara Mandrell. Wish I knew her. But Barbara Swain, I didn’t know. Don’t know too many Barbara’s come to think of it. Got one in the family. We call her Crazy Barbara. She’s not really crazy. Not certified at least. She can take a stick and find water. She showed me once. I didn’t think that was crazy. Thought it was downright incredible. But she’s not crazy, just talented and a lot of fun. Barbara Mandrell’s talented and fun too. Must be a trait of Barbara’s.
But back to Barbara Jean. You knew I’d start calling her by her first and middle name soon as you read that first sentence didn’t you? We getting to know each other just a tad bit too well I think! Me and you, the reader. Not me and Barbara Jean, she’s gone.
Happens just about every day in Hopkins County. Someone dies.
I said I wouldn’t, but I’ve become that person. I look at the obituaries. Unlike others though, I don’t do it to see if I died. I figure the first person to know if I’m dead or not will be me.
But I got side-tracked. Barbara Jean passed away and I didn’t know her. I did however know her work. And here in a minute or two you going to hit your head like you drank one of them V8 Juices. Not the new fruity flavored ones, but the old fashioned tomato based ones. Isn’t it amazing how some commercials get stuck in our heads? How many years has it been since those, “I could have had a V8!” commercials aired? Yet today it’s a commercial gimmick that more people know that don’t know.

Whoops, got side-tracked again.
Barbara Jean had something in common with Hopkins County Genealogical Society President Jane Ann Jackson. Jane Ann’s working on a book that developed from her guest speaking at the Historical Society meeting, twice if you don’t remember, earlier this year. Jane Ann gave a two part presentation on historic or noteworthy homes of Madisonville. She along with photographer Tom Wortham, who photographed most the homes for a series of covers for the newspaper TV section, combined their talents to give the homes character. Jane Ann is reworking the bios of the homes and compiling the info in to a new book that will be available locally.
I can’t wait to see the finished product.
Now… where was I? Oh yes. Barbara Jean.
Here’s what jumped out at me about Barbara Jean. She was the artist who drew sketches of the homes for the guide and newspaper use of the Madisonville homes on the annual Holiday Tour of Homes. See you just slapped your head and said… Oh, I know her!
Never met Barbara Jean. Sure have seen her work. Admired her work. She was very talented. Told you, them Barbara’s were talented people.
In reading her obituary it asked that donations be made to the Alzheimer's Association. Safe to assume a few people might have thought Barbara was crazy at some point. Not me, I just think she got side-tracked at times or was looking for water. Now you are gonna sit there a minute and that one’s gonna hit ya. While I wait on ya, I’m gonna have a V8.
I wish I had met Barbara Jean.
Barbara Jean reminds me of a song Miranda Lambert put out on one of her earlier albums. “Everyone Dies Famous in a Small Town.” One of my buddies was in the video for it. He used to drive race cars and owns a tire shop. They filmed inside the tire shop and made him an extra. He gets spotlighted in the video. One day his obit’s going to be seen and one little line in there is going to say he was in a Miranda Lambert video and somebody’s going to realize they knew him without having ever actually met him.

I don’t know if she knows it or not, but Barbara Jean died famous.
If she didn’t read her obit, maybe she’ll read this and realize she was famous.
Barbara Jean, I’m sorry I didn’t meet you in person and shake your hand and compliment your work. It impressed me as a youngster growing up in Madisonville. And I also thank you for reminding me that as one of my favorite singers sings, Everybody’s Got a Story to Tell, we should stop and take time to record and document those everyday people around us, because everyone does have a story to tell. And we all die famous in a small town.
If everyday people and places interest you let me extend an invite to you to come to a meeting of the Historical Society or Genealogical Society, or both! Tonight’s a good night for just that as a joint meeting is taking place in the form of a special presentation at the Arts Center, better known as the old Madisonville Train Depot on Arch Street behind City Hall. Be there just a tad before 7 to get a seat as both groups along with the Madisonville/Hopkins County Library present writer Eddie Price, who will discuss his book “Life & Love on the Kentucky Frontier”. Doesn’t cost a thing to come listen.
Richard Cunningham is a Hopkins County native and a Kentucky Arts Council Community Scholar. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
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