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Nancy B. Rooks-Givhan and the Elvis connection

They were only together for 10 years, but for Nancy B. Rooks-Givhan, her time with Elvis Presley changed the trajectory of her life.

Mrs. Rooks-Givhan spent the next 45 years politely answering people’s questions about being a housekeeper and a cook for the legendary entertainer.

She fondly recalled her many experiences with the King of Rock and Roll and authored various books detailing her time with Elvis.

Mrs. Rooks-Givhan died on August 15, 2022, at the Villages at Primacy Place at age 84. Ironically, her death was one day before the date that Elvis Presley’s body was found in the Graceland home, where the two of them built such a strong bond.

On the evening of her death, thousands of Elvis fans gathered at Graceland to light candles and sing his songs in honor of the entertainment legend who died on Aug. 16, 1977. Prior to her health failing, she frequently attended the candlelight vigils.

Mrs. Nancy Rooks-Givhan wrote three books, including “Inside Graceland,” which was released in 2005. (Family photo)

Mrs. Rooks-Givhan was born in Mason, Tennessee, a small Fayette County town. She was the only daughter of eight children of the late Sylvester Mason and Rose Douglas Mason. Being from a small town fostered the humble beginnings that she graciously navigated throughout her life. She and her brothers walked more than two miles each day to school and often grew their own food.

Mrs. Rooks-Givhan was also a fastidious housekeeper.

“My mother used to rub paste wax into our hardwood floors on her hands and knees,” said her only child Norma Chism. “Then, she would buff them by hand. Our house was always spotless.”

Mrs. Rooks-Givhan put those skills to work as a housekeeper. She was working for a temporary agency in 1967 when serendipity, a sick maid, and her reputation as a hard worker changed her life. The agency sent Mrs. Rooks-Givhan to the Graceland mansion as a substitute worker.

In “The Maid, the Man and the Fans: Elvis is the Man,” a book Mrs. Rooks-Givhan co-wrote with Mae Gutter, Mrs. Rooks-Givhan said she met Elvis’s father Vernon that day. He told her she might be laid off when the other maid came back. Meanwhile, he told her to do whatever she saw that needed to be done.

Undaunted, she was not going to let the opportunity pass to prove how committed and meticulous she could be at this temporary assignment.

Nancy Rooks-Givhan worked at Graceland for 10 years. (Family photo)

Mrs. Rooks-Givhan got busy. There was a new baby in the house and lots of company coming over at all hours of the day. She dusted, straightened, vacuumed – anything to make Graceland sparkle.

When the house got too crowded, Mrs. Rooks-Givhan jumped in to cook. That’s when she began to prepare some of the meals that Elvis adored. To this day, people throughout the world travel to Memphis to enjoy the meals cultivated out of love and respect for Elvis.

Mrs. Rooks-Givhan was hired full-time. She worked the 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. shift. Having a maid on duty during the late-night hours might seem unusual for a conventional household, but nothing was conventional about Graceland. Elvis, his entourage, and his never-ending guest list, which included some of the world’s most entertaining music and television legends of that time, gathered and entertained all night.

In an interview when asked about Elvis singing around the house, Mrs. Rooks-Givhan shared this memory:

“He would play in the music room and sing ‘How Great Thou Art.’ Him and I sung together upstairs. (laughs) His girlfriend had gone shopping. He was upstairs and he told me he get lonesome and to come on up there and sit and talk to him.

“I went on up there and he said. “Well, we need something to do. I’ll tell you, we goin’ in the office area and I’m gonna play the organ.’ I said ‘OK. We gonna sing. You know I can’t sing, but I’ll try to help you.’

“We started on ‘Precious Lord Take My Hand And Lead Me On.’ We got to the part where we didn’t really know the words. I’m sure he knew’em, but I didn’t know’em. We’d just hum through. (laughs) We’d just do it that way.

“I was up there with him for quite a while until one of the bodyguards happen to come in and came up there. ‘What are you doing?’ He (Elvis) said, ‘What you think we’re doing? We’re singing!’ And just bust out laughing.”

Mrs. Rooks-Givhan didn’t leave Graceland sometimes until two or three o’clock in the morning. During the 10 years that she worked at Graceland, she often worked 7 days a week only missing a handful of days. After Elvis died, Mrs. Rooks-Givhan went to work at the restaurant across the street from Graceland.

Her time at Graceland was chronicled as Nancy Rooks-Givhan went on to become the author of three books: “The Maid, The Man, and the Fans (1984),” “Presley Family Cookbook (1990),” and “Inside Graceland (2005).” She built a global fanbase as people traveled from around the world to hear her accounts of her time at Graceland.

Additionally, her fanbase often reflected on her influence on Rock & Roll and American culture through her service and culinary expertise. Her autograph was often sought after and became a memento.

Tennessee State Rep. Jesse Chism: “When I posted this picture with my grandmother (Nancy Rooks-Givhan) for her birthday, I never knew that this would be my last picture with her. My grandmother … has been such an inspiration to me. As Elvis Presley’s maid, she made many of the meals that people travel from around the world to Memphis to try out. She went from maid to author, which gave me a first-hand look that we don’t have to end where we start. …” (Photo: Facebook)

Mrs. Rooks-Givhan was preceded in death by her husbands, Nathaniel Rooks and the Rev. Willie Givhan.

She is survived by her daughter, Norma Jean Chism of Memphis; four brothers, Robert Wirt, John Lee Mason, Obediah Mason, and Nathaniel Mason; three grandchildren: State Rep. Jesse Chism, Justin Chism, and Jerome Chism and six great-grandchildren.

The family will receive friends from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 25, at R. S. Lewis & Sons Funeral Home, 2944 Walnut Grove Rd. The Funeral service will be at noon on Friday, Aug. 26, at Faith Covenant Church at 4815 Willow Rd.

Interment will be at West Tennessee Veterans Cemetery.

 

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