Faith and family have lit up the lives of iconic America pop singer, matinee idol, and 1950s heartthrob Pat Boone and his wife Shirley through super stardom, raising their four daughters (Cherry, Debby, Lindy, and Laury), and personal tragedy.
By Susan Reynolds | Based on Pat Burns’ interview with Pat and Shirley Boone
Pat Boone released his first LP (remember those?) in 1954, at the tender age of 20, less than a year after marrying his high-school sweetheart, Shirley Foley, daughter of country music legend Red Foley and singer Judy Martin. Pat skyrocketed to rock-and-roll stardom with one Billboard hit after another — and to “teen idol” status with his boy-next-door good looks and starring roles in movies, TV variety shows, and his own TV show. Meanwhile, Pat and Shirley became the parents of four daughters — Cherry, Lindy, Debby, and Laury—and raised them in a Christian home filled with love, laughter, and music.
Pat and Shirley, married almost 60 years, have 16 grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, and a third great-grand due late December. The “in-loves” have lived in the same Beverly Hills house for 53 years, where on Christmases past up to 36 family members gathered for a three-day celebration.
Raising their daughters in Beverly Hills, particularly when Pat was often on the road or busy with his multitude of projects, proved challenging.
“I knew when I moved my family to California that we would be living in an alien culture that was not conducive to Nashville [values],” Pat said. “I decided to raise our girls with ‘Tennessee standards,’ although Shirley calls them ‘Biblical standards.’”
Their faith also played an important role. “We would sing and do devotionals every day at breakfast because we wanted our girls to know that faith is practical and important,” Shirley said. “We still go to church three times a week.”
And Pat is still constantly busy with myriad projects, including at least two upcoming albums, another book (or two), philanthropic and political initiatives, and serving on the board of Parents Television Council. The couple’s grandkids seem to be the only ones able to slow Pat down.
“I’ve always been a workaholic,” Pat explained, “but my grandchildren will put their hands on my face and tell me to listen to them. I’ve learned that slowing down to offer them — and whatever they want to tell me — a warm welcome is very important.”
The Boones use Skype often and call each grandchild on his or her birthday to sing a duet of “Happy Birthday.”
“I learned how to use the iPad and to text, just so I could keep in touch with them,” Shirley said. “We always tell them three things: God loves you. Your parents and grandparents love you. And you’re a good girl or boy.”
Pat and Shirley surrendered hosting duties for Christmas some years ago. “As our children’s families grew, we realized it was only fair for them to create their individual family traditions, but we visit those who live nearby on Christmas Eve and Christmas day,” Shirley said.
“They still want Shirley to bring her best dishes,” Pat added. “She’s always been the consummate mama and wife, and we all love her banana pudding, sweet-potato casseroles, and pies.”
In June 2001, Pat and Shirley Boone’s firstborn grandchild, Ryan, eldest son of Laury, fell through a third-story skylight, landing on concrete. He suffered severe internal injuries and bleeding, traumatic brain injury, and was unable to breathe on his own.
“Lindy was in Spain, so I rushed to the hospital,” Shirley said. “The doctor ran down the list of Ryan’s critical injuries and warned me not to get my hopes up, but I told him I was a prayer warrior and that he should get back inside and get to work.”
“The doctors thought he’d be in a vegetative state for the rest of his life, but twelve years later, Ryan is able to speak, feeds himself, walks with the use of a walker, and exercises in the pool,” Pat said.
Pat, Shirley, and Lindy founded Ryan’s Reach Foundation, which provides financial and promotional support to High Hopes Head Injury Program, a nationwide nonprofit organization dedicated to rehabilitating and retraining people who have sustained devastating brain injuries.
Click here to watch the Boone sisters perform their dad’s smash hit “Love Letters in the Sand” at a fundraiser for Ryan’s Reach.
Inspired by an appearance on Larry King Live in which Pat asked viewers to pray for Ryan, Lindy (Michaelis) penned Heaven Hears, a memoir chronicling Ryan’s journey of recovery.
Click here to watch a video of Ryan crossing the finish line at Dove Dash 2013, benefitting Ryan’s Reach.
Pat Burns is a film critic, Regional Editor of GRAND Magazine, author of Grandparents Rock, and happy grandmother of four.