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Oak Hill man recalls bond with Hank Williams' driver

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Charles Carr and Joe Tyree stayed in touch over the years, bound by the death of legendary country music singer Hank Williams.

Carr - who died Monday at 77 in Montgomery, Ala. -- was the last man to see Williams alive. He was driving the blue Cadillac in which Williams died, somewhere between Bluefield and Oak Hill, in the early morning hours of Jan. 1, 1953. Williams was 29 at the time, and Carr was 17.

"It's a very sad day in the Hank Williams community," said Beth Petty, whose father founded the Hank Williams Museum in Montgomery 14 years ago. "He was a very true friend of ours, a very good man with a gentle heart."

Tyree ran the funeral home in Oak Hill where Williams' body was taken. "Back then we didn't have a medical examiner system in West Virginia," said Tyree, 87, who still oversees the Tyree Funeral Home.

Carr, a friend of the Williams family, was asked to drive Williams from Montgomery on Dec. 30, 1952, to a pair of shows in Charleston, W.Va. on Dec. 31 and on to Canton, Ohio. After leaving, the weather was so bad it quickly became apparent that the country star would never make the Charleston date, and Carr was urged to try to make it on to Canton.

Williams and Carr left Knoxville, Tenn. about 10:45 p.m. Dec. 31, headed for Canton. Sometime around 6:30 a.m., Carr pulled off at a drive-in just outside Oak Hill, stretched his legs, went to check on Williams and found that the country singer was dead.

Carr immediately called for police. Williams' body was taken to a local hospital, then to Tyree Funeral Home in Oak Hill, where an autopsy was performed.

"That was the only place they could do [the autopsy] at the time," recalled Tyree, 87. "Me and one of the boys [from the funeral home] removed him from the hospital."

Tyree put Carr up for the night, until Williams' mother and Carr's father could come to collect the body and take Carr back to Montgomery. Tyree helped Williams' mother make funeral arrangements.

Over the years, Tyree said he kept in touch with Carr and with the Williams family. He said Williams' mother sent him a Christmas card every year following the death of her son.

Tyree said the funeral home still gets regular visitors and telephone calls asking about the death of Hank Williams.

Petty, who took over the museum in Montgomery which now holds the blue Cadillac in which Hank Williams died, said the singer's death made Charles Carr internationally famous overnight. But she said Carr never tried to capitalize on the fame or notoriety, humbly agreeing to answer questions about the singer.

"He never asked for any of it," Petty said. "He never accepted money for his interviews, and he did thousands and thousands of interviews. Every day someone wanted to talk to him."

Funeral service for Carr will be 3 p.m. Saturday at Leak Memorial Chapel, 945 Lincoln Road, Montgomery. Friends may call from 1 to 3 p.m. at the chapel. Burial will be in Greenwood Serenity Memorial Gardens, Montgomery.

Reach Rusty Marks at rustymarks@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1215.

 


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