Category Archives: Celebrities

Augusta’s Graceful Star

This Thursday night in Augusta, Georgia is exceptionally significant: the premier of the James Brown biopic “Get On Up”. As we approach our proud moment in the spotlight, I would like to say a few words about the evening’s coordinator and an esteemed star: Deanna Brown Thomas, one of his daughters. Deanna has been working relentlessly on this event, which is not only an opportunity for our town to shine, and her father’s story to be revealed, but also a chance for the world to learn more about the James Brown Family Foundation, beneficiary of the evening’s proceeds. The Foundation’s flagship program is known as JAMP, the James Brown Academy of Musik Pupils. JAMP is year-round music education crafted to encourage youth to discover their own abilities, and keep them on a positive life path. JAMP is also one reason why Deanna is such an authentic star.

Deanna founded JAMP and it is a delightful priveledge to see her face light up when she talks about it.  She explains that the program is so important because music paved the way for her dad to journey from poverty to purpose, and he would be thrilled to know that some members of the next generation are also receiving an open door. Offering this instruction to young people in the community is Deanna’s passion. The budding musicians are always learning, practicing and performing, getting a taste of the work ethic which made James Brown famous.

A Youth performance. Other photos can be seen at

A Youth performance. Other photos can be seen at

While JAMP is a compelling story, it is not what impresses me the most about Deanna. In my brief contacts with her over the past few years, I have become convinced that she is the ultimate personification of grace. She carries herself with such dignity, it seems impossible to picture the undeniable pressures ever disturbing her always-smiling face. I aspire to carry myself with such decorum one day, perhaps filled with inner peace. (Or at least a hard-core stress-management system).

Deanna and I met in 2011, when we were both recruited to participate in “Dancing Stars of Augusta”, a fundraiser for the Alzheimer’s Association. Followers of my blog know that I was a hot mess nervous wreck throughout this process, a personal ordeal which was abated somewhat by writing about it.



Deanna at the 2011 Dancing Stars Augusta Reception

In contrast to my frequent borderline panic attacks over the thought of performing a Tango in front of thousands of people, Deanna was the consummate cool customer, acting as though she danced in front of massive crowds every day. This is actually not far from the truth, since her famous father was known to put little Deanna on stage to dance as crowds cheered. She has only known the life of performing and mingling with celebrities, yet she never seems boastful of these stories. She will tell you she is just blessed.


Dancers with Instructors. Group shot was taken at end of evening. Austin Rhodes and Deanna had already left for the evening.

My fellow dancers and I had plenty of down-time on the night of the performance. The event coordinators asked us to be ready early for a VIP Meet N Greet, then we waited as patrons listened to speeches and ate dinner. I spent these hours alternating between the parking lot with my headphones, listening to Rhianna’s “S&M” (the only song on my iPod which helped my nerves), and sitting in the small dressing room adding more sparkle to my makeup. Deanna likewise spent a great deal of time in the dressing room, but instead of staring at herself in the mirror as I did, she sat in the corner quietly looking at emails on her phone. I commented that she and I were the only ones not out in the “Green Room” socializing, and she replied that staying quiet before a performance was a tip she learned from her dad. She stated it very matter-of-factly, as if having an iconic performer for a father was a very normal thing.

I was struck with her humility and approachability, as well as with her willingness to speak freely about memories of her dad, who had passed away five years prior. I wondered what it must be like to live in the shadow of a man who seemed larger than life to the entire world, and speculated to myself about the strategy involved in crafting an identity separate from the surreal persona of the Godfather of Soul. Does she get tired of people asking her questions about him all day, every day? Does she wish she could have her own performance career? Is it exhausting to deal with the celebrity-clingers who only reach out to her because of her maiden name?

These questions are, of course, all ego-based, and as I have had more contact with Deanna over the past few years, I realize that they are incompatible with her true self. Deanna is honored to represent her dad’s legacy, and strives every day to uphold the brand he created. She carries herself with the demeanor of a person who understands what is important in life. She never tires of her circumstances; she brings new relevance to traditional family endeavors. In addition to JAMP, she and her team continue her father’s long-established ritual of giving turkeys and toys to needy families during the holidays.

As if these pursuits were not significant enough, her service to the community reaches even further, augmenting the inspiration I receive just from knowing her. She serves on the Board of Directors for the Augusta Museum of History, which houses an impressive exhibit of James Brown artifacts, and Deanna often leads tours of visitors. During them, she shares personal stories which makes the exhibit come to life, and her admiration for her father is palpable. Her confident, articulate presentation is vibrant, never sounding like she has repeated it thousands of times, which she likely has.


Finally, Deanna blew me away when she agreed to serve on my own humble committee, a marketing team to promote the revival of the Miller theater downtown. Her dad had been on the stage as a teen, so the connection is there, but it would have been easy for her to dismiss the project in lieu of her many other commitments. On the Miller Marketing Team, she weighs in on discussions, attends meetings, and volunteers for various Miller events. Everything she does has a purpose, but is also done with thoughtfulness and -I’ll say it one last time- grace.

Volunteering at the Miller theater

Volunteering at the Miller theater

So after you watch the James Brown biopic “Get On Up”, do not forget another inspiring story: that of his daughter, who works quietly every day to honor his memory. Reach out to learn more about her talent, which is embracing what music can do for our community. Be inspired by her story, the tale of a little girl who went from dancing on stage to enriching the lives of those around her by taking her dad’s superstardom to a whole new level.


A True Superstar

Although this story features a celebrity, it is really about a different kind of Superstar. In order to fully appreciate the tale, you need to know some background. Our Superstar, Kevin Maskey, may possibly be the most giving, selfless person on the planet. As an employee, father, son, husband, and human being, he constantly is doing something for someone else, and rarely for himself. For the purpose of our story, let’s focus on Kevin the employee.

Kevin is the service manager at Gerald Jones Honda. He has 60 employees who report to him, and with the volume of business that cycles through his shop, you can imagine the number of customers who need his help every day. There is rarely a time when Kevin doesn’t have a line of people waiting to talk to him. His days at work are hectic and long, yet he doesn’t let the stress make him grumpy, as we often see in people under that much pressure. He is one of those rare managers who can push hard for his business, do the right thing for the customer, earn the respect of his employees and still find some humor in every day.

Kevin ran the service department at Saturn from the time the dealership opened until the day the sign came down. He has also managed the local Acura, Chevrolet and Mazda service departments. I would always watch in amazement as he worked his tail off, building each business to run smoothly with happy customers and profitable numbers. No matter how chaotic a department would be when he arrived at a new store, he had it turned around by the time he left. Every boss he worked for was sad to see him leave, knowing how difficult it would be to find someone that talented to run their service department.

But the car business is a brutal world. You are only as good as your last best month, and it’s all about the numbers. It is rare for someone doing a good job to hear the words “Thank You.” Despite the level of dedication that Kevin has shown to his employers through the years, moments of praise or appreciation have been rare.

This leads us up to our celebrity story. Kevin was taking me to see Rick Springfield for my 46th birthday. A loyal Rick fan, I was excited to go to my 5th concert during a span of 28 years. Despite the many shows, I had never managed to finagle an autograph, and Kevin was determined to get one for me. Camera and Sharpie in hand, Kevin was focused on finding a way to capture a picture or a Rick signature. It was his mission for the night.

We went to the show with my sister and brother-in-law, and had a couple of extra tickets, which Kevin shared with his boss Andy Jones. When Andy and his wife Connie arrived, they set up chairs near us in the VIP area, where we all relaxed to wait for the show to start. During the pre-show activities, the event organizers decide to have Columbia County Chairman Ron Cross hold a live auction of a guitar to be signed by Rick. The money would go to the local children’s hospital. Andy jumped up and got into the bidding. The figure started at $1,000, and soon the asking price skyrocketed as several concert-goers competed for the chance to meet Rick and get the coveted guitar signed after the show.  By the time Andy won the auction, the stakes were high, and the children’s hospital was going to receive his generous gift of $4,700. The crowd was wound up with excitement.

Chairman Cross handed Andy the guitar from the stage, saying that they would settle up later, telling the crowd that he knew Andy was “good for it”. Then the most amazing thing happened. Andy walked right over to Kevin, showing him the guitar and telling him, “I got this so that you guys could go up with us and get a picture with Rick after the show. This is all because of how hard you work.”

As long as I live, this is a moment I will never forget.  Andy went back to his seat and I looked over at Kevin. I could read the emotion on his face, and see the red eyes trying so hard not to lose it. There is nothing more powerful than the image of a strong man on the brink of tears. He was touched that someone would make such a grand gesture on his behalf; I was touched by his reaction. After so many years of long hours, stress and sacrifice, suddenly someone demonstrates sincere appreciation of his effort in a meaningful way. All Kevin wanted was to help me to have a special memory for my birthday, and here it was. Because of the kind of employee Kevin is, Andy Jones seized the moment with a generous and bold action that translated into a dream come true for me. I wiped at my tears as we sat silently with hands tightly clasped, knowing how much it meant to both of us that someone truly recognized Kevin for the person he is.

During the show, Andy told us that when the song “Jesse’s Girl” began, it would be time for all of us to head to the sponsor tent for the guitar signing and picture. After decades of being a Rick fan, I was finally going to meet him. We went to the tent while the encore songs were being performed, and Andy walked over to me with the guitar. He told me, “This is yours to keep, because you are married to a true Superstar.” Andy Jones paid $4,700 so that he could convey to Kevin how valuable he was to his business. Cameras were clicking all around us as I held the guitar with a stunned look on my face. If you see one of those pictures, you may notice my shocked expression as the reality sunk in.Rick came into the tent, where he was immediately ushered over to us. Chairman Cross and Andy introduced me to Rick, telling him that the guitar was for me. Rick shook my hand, signed the guitar, and embraced me for a photo. The moment was a surreal whirlwind, over in a blink.

When Rick and the crowd dispersed from the tent, I told Kevin what Andy said-the guitar was ours to keep. We were completely blown away, having difficulty digesting such a magnanimous gift. My sister would later tell me that it was the perfect moment of karma for me, for the kind things I do for others. She is only half-right. It was a moment of karma, yes. But the karma was Kevin’s: for being the kind of person that he is, doing for others every day, all the while keeping his grace and humor, and asking nothing in return. Finally, someone saw how much he was doing for everyone else, and made the grand gesture to match. Thank you, Andy Jones.  Although I was happy to finally meet my celebrity, I was even happier to know that my true Superstar got his time in the spotlight.