A photo can be both heartbreaking and beautiful. The image at the top of this story is proof of that.
In it, women’s wrestling great Beverly Shade, bedridden in a hospital, gets her induction plaque for the just-launched Women’s Wrestling Hall of Fame from one of my heroes — Lori McGee Hurst.
Looking back through my years writing about wrestling, I can say that both Lori and Beverly are truly treasures.
Lori comes out of the World Class Championship Wrestling office in Dallas, and knows so much … but is not one to spill secrets. She has earned the love and trust of the industry, and has been paying it forward for the last year. You see, Lori is the one who has been salvaging as much as she can from the abandoned remains of the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame in Wichita Falls, Texas. She was the one packing up treasures that were donated and returning them to the rightful owners, on her own dime and time (she still has a full-time job), all the while wondering just how haunted the ancient Big Blue building in downtown Wichita Falls really is.
At the Cauliflower Alley Club reunion in September 2022, I was able to give Lori a shoutout in front of her peers, and I called her an “angel” and meant it.
Does that make Beverly Shade the “devil”? She’d love that description.
It’s hard to describe Beverly in some ways.
She is a true southern gal, proper, proud, always put together.
But she can cuss like a sailor, lean over and tell you a dirty joke but not have any of the off-colorness stick to her.
Her voice, until recently quieted, was honey coarsened by years of smoking.
And boy was she independent, in both the way she carried herself and the way she was in the wrestling business, as one of the few women to succeed outside of the Fabulous Moolah‘s collection of women wrestlers. Yet she was still respected enough to be occasionally working alongside Moolah.
Bev is loyal to friends, always happy to put others over, and often did in our conversations with me and with the website through the years.
And loyal she is as well to her husband, Billy Blue River. Quick, how many wrestling relationships have lasted over 50 years? While I don’t know the answer, I suspect it comes close to not very damn many. That they promoted together too had to have been an added strain on the marriage.
Billy loves SlamWrestling, and has often told me so. It’s genuine and appreciated (and why I once wrote Happy birthday to Billy Blue River, our #1 fan). He’d be sharing stories with his beloved Bev, and I’d get the occasional email from them about pieces that ran on the site.
While I never actually have met Billy in person, I feel that I have through the number of times that I have hung out with Bev. Billy and I collaborated on the 2019 piece:
Beverly Shade’s a Hall of Fame wife too. They have a unique relationship. Bev would joke about Billy’s physical issues, making light of serious ailments; after all, it was out of their control in many ways. And they could banter. In one of our last chats, Bev said she had recently said to Billy, “I hate to be such a bitch.” She said his response was, lovingly, “Well, you’ve always been a bitch!”
They are each other’s best friends.
Annually, I’d see Bev on her trips to the Cauliflower Alley Club reunion, in Las Vegas, where she’d usually be found at a slot machine, smoking and pulling/pushing away, hoping to cash in. She’d be happy to chat with just about everyone.
But our real connection came through her trips from Mississippi north to Toronto for a number of the Titans in Toronto dinners that I ran with Jian and Page Magen, and Andy Stefanides, fundraisers for the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame (Bev was one of its final inductees in 2019).
She came up because she had such fond memories of working for the Bearman Dave McKigney and his tours around Ontario. At the time, she got to know people like Rachael Dubois, Ron Doner, Carmen Monge (who we both continually hunted for in vain), and so many more. I adore some of the photos from those events, in particular the ones taken by the marvelous photographer Andrea Kellaway.
We were all truly honored that someone would come so far for our dinners, to share in the memories and creating new ones.
And now Bev is being moved to hospice care, which is not a surprise. Her and Billy have faced so many health challenges in recent years; their son, Ricky and his family haven’t had it easy with his ageing parents.
I wish there was a way to hug them from afar. Lori too.
Instead I write, when a beautiful, heartbreaking photo can say more at a glance than I ever could.
Love you, Bev.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Any comments posted below will be shared with Beverly Shade and Billy Blue River.
TOP PHOTO: Beverly Shade and Lori McGee Hurst on Monday, April 24, 2023.
- June 3, 2023: Women’s wrestling great Beverly Shade dies
- July 11, 2020: Mat Matters: Happy birthday to Billy Blue River, our #1 fan
- May 13, 2019: Beverly Shade’s a Hall of Fame wife too
- May 9, 2009: Best friend remembers the late Princess Jasmine