Tammy Wynette's children and stepchildren authorized the name change on her Nashville tomb, according to stepdaughter Deirdre Richardson-Hale.
CMT.com broke the news Monday (March 5) that the name on Wynette's tomb at Woodlawn Cross Mausoleum has been changed from "Tammy Wynette" to "Virginia W Richardson." At the time of her death in 1998, Wynette was married to producer and songwriter George Richey, whose original surname was Richardson.
Richardson-Hale, an attorney in San Diego, is Richey's daughter.
"I guess I'm curious as to why it's a story," she said to CMT.com during a phone interview conducted shortly after the name-change article was published. "I can tell you simply [the change] was a decision made by her six children for reasons known to us."
She declined to specify what those reasons were. The children involved are Wynette's four daughters and Richey's daughter and son.
Georgette Jones-Lennon, the daughter of Wynette and George Jones, confirmed Richardson-Hale's explanation but said she had a different understanding of what her mother's name on the tomb would be changed to.
She also asserted the change had taken place more than six months ago and, like Richardson-Hale, wondered why the news of it was only now being reported.
(For the record, CMT.com reported the story as soon as it could confirm that Wynette's name was no longer on her tomb.)
"Deirdre called my sister and relayed a message to her that it would be legally necessary -- just temporarily -- for us to change Mom's name [on her tomb] to her maiden name," said Jones-Lennon, "and that [the change] was in regard to things that were going on regarding Sheila, Richey's widow.
"We did agree, but we wanted Mom's name to be changed temporarily to her maiden name, which we thought was going to be 'Virginia Wynette Pugh.' Of course, as you can see, it was changed to 'Virginia W Richardson,' which was not what we agreed to. ... I won't speak for all of us, but I can say my sisters Tina, Jackie and myself are very upset."
Richey married the former Sheila Slaughter in 2001, three years after Wynette's death.
In a written statement sent to CMT.com , Jones-Lennon said, "We are currently having to fight [Sheila Richey] in court due to decisions she made near the end of her husband's life to sell everything of our mother's to Bicycle Music, even though Mom's will specifically left everything to us four girls and Richey's two children after his death. She sold everything just a few months short of his passing."
A news release from Bicycle Music on Feb. 19, 2010, stated that the company, in league with the AF Circle C Fund, had acquired "a significant interest in the Tammy Wynette music catalog, name and likeness as well as the trademarks 'Tammy Wynette,' 'First Lady of Country Music' and 'Stand by Your Man.'"
Richey died just over five months after this deal was made.
Communicating by email, Sheila Richey told CMT.com she was unaware of what prompted the name change.
"Sadly, I cannot tell you the reasons why my stepdaughter, Deirdre Hale, would have requested Woodlawn to desecrate the resting place of this world-renowned country legend. My late husband, George Richey, had the name her fans knew, Tammy Wynette, placed there after she died in 1998. Over this issue and others, Deirdre and I no longer speak."
She criticized Wynette's daughters for having their mother's body exhumed after they had filed a lawsuit against Richey and Wynette's doctor, alleging they had contributed to her death. An autopsy determined that the singer died of natural causes.
"I would like to apologize on behalf of my late husband and myself to all of Tammy's wonderful fans around the world," Richey concluded. "I'm truly sorry for another stain on 'The First Lady of Country Music' brought about by her children."
"I can't believe there is still so much acrimony over this poor woman," said an industry insider who once worked closely with Wynette but who asked to remain anonymous. "Now someone has stripped her of her own celebrity. [Visiting her tomb now] would be like visiting Tony Curtis' grave and seeing his real name -- Bernard Schwartz -- on it."