Chewning and Franks mourn loss of friend Debbie Reynolds

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Bootie Chewning and Debbie Reynolds have been friends for 30 years. They met in Salem when Reynolds was married to Roanoke real estate developer Richard Hamlett. Reynolds asked Chewning for her recollections when writing her memoir “Unsinkable.”

Entertainer Debbie Reynolds passed away on December 28, 2016, following the death of her daughter Carrie Fisher from a massive heart attack just the day before.

Reynolds is remembered as a star of film and stage. Fisher was a renowned performer in her own right, best known for her role as Princess Leia in the Star Wars movie series.

In addition to being megastars, Reynolds and Fisher were both authors.

In 2013, Reynolds published her second book, “Unsinkable,” which includes details of the years she lived in Roanoke when married to Roanoke real estate developer Richard Hamlett.

In the book, Reynolds talks about her friendship with Vinton’s Bootie Chewning, which began in the 1980s and flourished throughout the years. Reynolds sent special birthday greetings read at Chewning’s 80th birthday bash last August.

Casting Director Jerry Franks has known and worked with Debbie Reynolds for 40 years. Franks semi-retired to Roanoke and is well known to William Byrd students as a substitute teacher.

“I have lost a great friend and the world has lost two legends,” said Chewning. “Debbie died of a broken heart; I think it just exploded. She loved (her children) Carrie and Todd more than anything in the world and granddaughter Billie and brother Bill. Debbie was like the mother to the world; she took care of so many people financially, when she had it to give. She will always be America’s Sweetheart. I am blessed to have known her. May they rest in peace!”

Chewning remarked that Reynolds often joked about how different generations remembered her work.

“To the older people, she was Tammy,” Chewning said, referring to the character Reynolds played in the Tammy movie series made between 1957 and 1967. “To the young people, she was Princess Leia’s mother.

Bootie Chewning helped produce and promote Reynolds’ performances at the Roanoke Civic Center in November of 1993.

“She was a genuine person, a lovable person– we all loved her,” added Chewning. “She couldn’t go to sleep at night after her shows and sometimes she would call me at 2 or 3 in the morning. She would say ‘Hello, Bootie, this is Debbie Reynolds,’ like I wouldn’t know who that was with that low voice.”

Acclaimed casting director Jerry Franks, who now lives in Roanoke and frequently substitutes at William Byrd High School, was friends with Reynolds for 40 years.

“My dad used to tell me as a younger person that ‘As we age, we lose more friends’,” said Franks. “It never occurred to me that a) I would age and b) my close friends would die. The loss of Debbie has me in tears daily. What gives me comfort is the knowledge that she and Carrie are in Heaven and not in pain. They both endured very painful lives.”