SMITHFIELD, N.C. — Ava Gardner, the barefoot beauty who walked out of the North Carolina tobacco fields to become a Hollywood love goddess, was buried today in a pink gown beneath the stately magnolias of a wind-swept family graveyard.
More than 2,000 fans converged on tiny Sunset Memorial Park to mourn the passing of the legendary beauty, who left the farm at 19 and never returned. She was 67 when she died in London last Thursday of pneumonia.
"She's just about the prettiest woman that ever was--the prettiest face, the prettiest eyes, the prettiest hair, the prettiest body," said J. T. Hurley, 72, of Cary, N.C., who braved a cold drizzle for two hours before the funeral began.
The Rev. Francis Bradshaw, who delivered a graveside eulogy to 60 family members and more than 2,000 fans, paid tribute to Gardner, who was laid to rest in a flowing pink gown, not for her beauty but for her gentle soul.
"She was no saint," Bradshaw said. "If we were all saints, then this whole God thing would not be necessary.
"She was no saint, they said, but they talked about her authenticity, her genuineness," the Methodist minister said. "They talked about her love for her home, for its realism, for its gentleness, for its roots, for its family."
Gardner's sister, Myra Pearce of Winston-Salem, N.C., wept as Bradshaw spoke, then went directly to her car without a word to anyone. Another sister, Beatrice Cole of Los Angeles, was too sick to attend the funeral.
None of Gardner's Hollywood cronies attended the service. Her housekeeper, Carmen Varga, placed a small bouquet of flowers on her solid cherry casket before it was interred.
Fewer than a dozen other bouquets marked the grave, including a wicker basket of yellow roses from singer Lena Horne, with a card that read, "I love you."
Singer Frank Sinatra, Gardner's last husband, sent a wreath of pink roses and carnations with a card signed simply, "Francis."