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Deen museum could be home run for Albany

Opinion Column

Carlton Fletcher

Carlton Fletcher

Just know you’re not alone. ‘Cause I’m going to make this place your home.

— Phillip Phillips

Even with the emergence of a growing list of sports and entertainment celebrities from this region — baseball’s Buster Posey, country music’s Luke Bryan and Dallas Davidson, TV’s Phillip Phillips — there is arguably no local celebrity more, well, celebrated than Albany girl Paula Deen.

Businesses in Savannah “discovered” the celebrity chef everyone now just calls Paula when she and then-husband Jimmy Deen and their two sons, Jamie and Bobby, cooked and delivered meals through their unique business they called The Bag Lady. The Bag Lady became a genuine restaurateur with the success of the Savannah-based The Lady & Sons restaurant, and pretty soon The Food Network wanted in on the action.

Deen, who remarried (to sea captain Michael Groover) and eventually built a magnificent new home in Savannah, became a bona fide celebrity when her “Paula’s Home Cooking” became a Food Network favorite (earning her an Emmy). Suddenly, the world couldn’t get enough of the Southwest Georgia chef with the syrupy-sweet Southern accent and the magic touch.

But a funny thing happened to Paula Deen on her way to fame and renown. She never lost touch with her Albany roots, and she never traded her hometown friends in for an opportunity to rub elbows with the rich and glamorous.

Paula hosted a birthday party for BFF — and Albany resident — Susan Greene on Saturday, and she was still recovering from the weekend on Monday when she talked with me about plans to turn her childhood home into a Paula Deen Museum that would bring tourist dollars to her hometown and further the cause of her charitable Bag Lady Foundation.

“We partied all weekend long,” Deen said, laughing when I mentioned the party. “We had a fundraiser for The Bag Lady Foundation a while ago, and Susan — who is on the foundation board — made her husband (local businessman Phil Greene) buy one of the dinners that was auctioned off. We decided to make that part of her birthday celebration.

“I guess we’re not as young as we used to be, though, because we both fell sound asleep sitting in my living room. They took pictures of us sacked out that I’ve got to get a copy of. Susan woke me up snoring.”

Deen laughs her deep, genuine laugh as she tells the story, and I start to get an inkling of why she’s so popular around the world. Even as she’s become a popular TV guest and host and has even become fodder for the tabloid press — “The latest story they have out about me is that I lost weight because I’m getting rid of my husband,” she hoots. “No, I lost weight because I have diabetes. ... And Michael and I are closer than ever. Aunt Peggy (Ort) always tells me I only need to worry when they stop writing about me.” — she is still that Albany High School cheerleader who hosted cookouts and spend-the-night parties at her Whitney Avenue home.

Albany city officials paid lukewarm attention to a group — which includes businesswoman B.J. Fletcher and Paula’s ex-husband Jimmy — that has been pitching the Paula Deen Museum idea for a couple of years now, not exactly sure how the idea might work. But the group has purchased Deen’s former home, and the cooking star herself has expressed excitement at the concept.

“I’m just blown away that people like B.J. think enough of me to want to do something like this,” Deen said of the plan. “I’m just floored that the folks back in Albany would consider something like this. Even with all that’s happened to me in my life, there’s just no other place in the world like Albany.”

There are going to be detractors who’ll read of the Deen museum idea and scoff. That’s just what they do. But when a hometown girl with the star power of a Paula Deen expresses interest in lending her name to a project that could become a genuine tourist attraction, city officials would be foolish to not jump at the possibility of making it happen.

The city’s track record with such attractions notwithstanding, this could be a home run for a city that has long been mired in a slump.

Email Metro Editor Carlton Fletcher at carlton.fletcher@albanyherald.com.

Comments

waltspecht 11 months, 2 weeks ago

The magic word could is in there. The Civic Center could have been a success. The Ray Charles Plaza could have been a success. The Riverquarium could have been a success. Not taking anything away from Deen, but I sure wouldn't drive on over to see a museam dealing with her life. While many people may adore her, are there enough to make this sort of thing work. Time to let only private funds support the idea. Keep public funding completely out of it.

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FryarTuk 11 months, 2 weeks ago

The reason the JHG Center isn't successful is because of the incompetent, inadequate people running and the corrupt politics of the City Commission.

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WJReady 11 months, 1 week ago

That has been the problem since inception. Hire a professional who knows how to negotiate, manage a auditorium and bring in funds through renting out your facility. Laziness and a government position go hand in hand.

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chinaberry25 11 months, 2 weeks ago

Go ahead, but do not ask Albany for money. Tell me how many times has she been back here? Class reunions? The private sector is the only way to go or not at all.

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WeAreThey 11 months, 2 weeks ago

'Lending her name'? That's sounds an awful lot like 'if someone else wants to pay for it...'. I don't think you did Ms. Fletcher's campaign any favors by advocating for this project, Carlton.

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erock 11 months, 2 weeks ago

A few years ago, I visited the Hank Williams museum in Montgomery. Located right downtown about three maybe four blocks away from his infamous grave site. The museum is privately owned and well maintained and informative. With the help of historians and private donors, the museum thrives. The same could happen with Paula Dean but you have got to make sure that Albany has nothing to do with it and consider an outlying location instead of downtown.

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agirl_25 11 months, 2 weeks ago

Your statement reminded me of the Alan Jackson rendition of Midnight in Montgomery. I love the song and his triubute to Hank Williams in it.

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erock 11 months, 2 weeks ago

It's something to behold. You may think you're alone, but you're not. You should definitely go see for yourself. In the museum, his famous blue drop top Cadillac that he was in when he was called home to glory is literally about two feet away from you.

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agirl_25 11 months, 2 weeks ago

I am heading to Montgomery tomorrow...maybe I will give it a look-see if time permits.

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VSU 11 months, 2 weeks ago

Or it could be a strike out.

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KaosinAlbany 11 months, 2 weeks ago

Sometimes risks must be taken in order to succeed or fail.

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VSU 11 months, 2 weeks ago

I think this has failure written all over it.

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agirl_25 11 months, 2 weeks ago

Notice all the positive comments about the new Chick-fil-A opening in Leesburg? One of the very few places I will to go for a dining-out. Now that is really good food and the staff is wonderful....at every one I have ever gone to. Sorry Paula....but seems the masses are more excited about a new place like Chick-fil-A than a museum.

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VSU 11 months, 2 weeks ago

Everybody loves Chick-Fil-A, people....particularly in Lee County should be excited. Now they don't have to drive all the way out to the mall for Chick-Fil-A. Maybe that will help ease the traffic. Those lines get kind of crazy come lunch time or dinnertimed.

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NotVinceDooley 11 months, 2 weeks ago

This has zippo to do with Paula Deen herself, but I have notice over the years that Albany has a bizarre fascination with any local person who achieves any degree of fame or notoriety. It's a little weird in an idol-worship sort of way. I wonder what the local preachers think of this.

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KaosinAlbany 11 months, 2 weeks ago

If Lee Co. can capitalize on their celebs why can't Albany? Nothing wrong with that.

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NotVinceDooley 11 months, 2 weeks ago

I include Lee County in this description. The "Idol" worship of that fella with two first names was amusing to watch. Nice kid, I wish him well, but the panting sycophants were out in full force.

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KaosinAlbany 11 months, 2 weeks ago

Wow! You "Negative Nillies" are out in full force this week. Nothing positive will happen in Albany with that kind of attitude. How about being apart of the solution instead of insulting and staying miserable. Must be a lonely life for you folks.

I use to be that way until I became apart of the solution. Some of these people work very hard and for free to help the community. Trust me, you will be a happier person if you didn't always put everyone down and what they do for this town.

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NotVinceDooley 11 months, 2 weeks ago

But, I am "apart" from the solution.

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KaosinAlbany 11 months, 2 weeks ago

Excuse me, for not separating the two words. a part. There, happy now!!!

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VSU 11 months, 2 weeks ago

It's going to take a lot more than a Paula Deen Museum to bring positive attitudes to Albany, Ga. I'd like to see the city of Albany cleaned up. That includes repaving the many road and streets that are in need of repaving, street signs and street lights straightened out so they are not leaning 10 feet one way or 10 feet the other. Burned out street lightbulbs replaced. Trash cleaned up, grass cut and weeds removed. An 80% reduction in crime, more industrial businesses instead of another pawn shop. All that would do more to brighten up this city than a Paula Deen museum.

Like agirl_25 said, some people may visit the first time, after that it will sit there and collect dust.

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KaosinAlbany 11 months, 2 weeks ago

BJ tried to bring an industry here and the business decided not to come because of the horrible schools here. The schools have to be straightened out before this can happen.

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KaosinAlbany 11 months, 2 weeks ago

That isn't her fault but the voters fault for electing a school board that only catered to their agenda (past school board not current one).

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agirl_25 11 months, 2 weeks ago

BJ Fletcher seems to really be on the ball. Too bad she was not elected Mayor of Albany.

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VSU 11 months, 2 weeks ago

BJ is one of the few positives and bright spots Albany has that's for sure. Maybe we could clone her. We could use more like her in Albany.

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Sister_Ruby_Two 11 months, 2 weeks ago

We need another museum in this town like we need another 100 welfare "families" or another Carlton Fletcher. Word!

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FryarTuk 11 months, 2 weeks ago

Sister, you are an irascible fart sometimes but I love you.

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MRKIA 11 months, 2 weeks ago

WHAT ID-JIT THINKS THIS IS A VIABLE ENTERPRISE? LET THEM FUND IT AND SEE HOW QUICKLY IT GETS DONE.

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erock 11 months, 2 weeks ago

Don't let nothing happen to Mr Fletcher, he always opens the door to some very interesting conversations. He could perhaps be my favorite liberal.

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rightasrain 11 months, 2 weeks ago

A Paula Deen museum? Are you going to play recordings of her foul mouth and videos of how she and "Bubba" treats her employees? While you folks are at it...you can paper the walls with copies of all the lawsuits by employees regarding harassment, racism, etc. A Paula Deen museum? That thought leaves as bad a taste in my mouth as did her "famous" southern cooking in Savannah. Just a thought for you to chew on.

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agirl_25 11 months, 2 weeks ago

Oh yes, right, I was following the case. I read recently that it is in the final stages, have you? I wasn't surprised tho, at some of her colorful language in the court proceedings I had read. Those are the worst kind, the ones who profess to be so sweet. My husband has our big dish receiver full of satellites that carry raw feeds and it is amazing how some people act prior to going live on TV. Remember Justin Wilson..the cajun cook who had such a cajun accent? All put on. On a raw feed once we sat and watched him talk as plain as the next person. When asked about it by someone off camera he laughed and said it was what he was known for.....sad huh? Then the interview went out to affiliates and he got into character.

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FryarTuk 11 months, 2 weeks ago

My wife and I have eaten Paula Deen's cooking and used her recipes dozens of times and the food has always been excellent. If you had a bad experience you should have told the host. They would have made it right. You people are pissing on your legs just to feel warm.

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Ihope4albany 11 months, 2 weeks ago

I hope that Albany grows for all. However, Albany has an invisible cancer that eats her insides up everyday. The doctor who can operate to remove it, give chemo and radiation, and oversee her healing will win God's Nobel.

Much success in this endeavor that should not be tax-based supported. It should be a private funded venture.

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FryarTuk 11 months, 2 weeks ago

Ihop, I agree with almost everything you have written. I don't think it will take a supernatural act to change things. It is quite apparent that one election and a little supervision from the GA DOE has made a salutary impact on DCSS. I do agree the two commissions seem almost unreachable with ABY commission barely remedial. I think it can be done with a couple of elections or a fatal heart attack or two. Let's hope the dark side of the force doesn't prevail.

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Sister_Ruby_Two 11 months, 1 week ago

ihope is KRUNK and mentally unstable and possibly demon possessed. She need help and don't even KNOW it which is further evidence she need help. Professional help and probably a period of protective custody and isolation. Six months should do it but twelve months could be necessary for a full and final cure. Prophetic Utterance.

After that, no contact with Black Liberation Theology proponents. Ever.

After that, she might make it back to the Land of the Sane if she stay on her meds.

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FryarTuk 10 months, 2 weeks ago

It's okay by me. Run it 'til it gets done. Well done.

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