• John McGary, Woodford Sun News Editor

Happy birthday … and thank you very much

When Debbie “Cupcake” Conway turned 64 last Saturday, there were friends and family, a birthday cake, and presents in an upstairs meeting room at Margaret Hall Manor.

Her favorite gift, however, was the man who came to serenade her for an hour – Elvis.

“She has, all her life, idolized Elvis Presley,” Debbie’s sister Darlene Lowery said, adding that Debbie had tickets to the Elvis concert in Rupp Arena that was cancelled when Presley passed away a week before the event. Since then, Darlene and others have wondered how to make up for that lost show.

Enter Elvis tribute artist Bill Kelly, who was invited to Debbie’s party by a mutual friend, Rick Smith, who drives the bus that takes her to adult day care in Lexington. Kelly told Smith he was booked most of Saturday, but he did have time for a late-morning matinee.

“It was a total surprise to her,” Darlene said of the visit and performance by “Elvis.”

It has not been an easy life for Debbie. She has cerebral palsy, has never walked, and has difficulty speaking – but she didn’t need to say anything Saturday. She spent much of the hour dancing in her wheelchair as Kelly sang to her, held her hand (“quite a grip she’s got there,” he said mid-song) and gently teased her for her enthusiasm.

“I want to be around when you win Powerball,” Kelly joked.

Kelly led Debbie and company in a sing-along of “Happy Birthday” and took requests. Before doing a four-song medley that included

“Teddy Bear” – a favorite of Debbie’s – he told her, tongue-in-cheek, “I don’t want you to move. OK? Don’t shake. Don’t shimmy. It’s an old building; we don’t want to go through the floor.”

To the crowd’s delight, Debbie ignored Kelly’s instructions, chimed in on the words “teddy bear,” and the floor held firm.

“I loved it,” Debbie said after the birthday show. Asked why she loves Elvis so much, she said, “I just do.”

It was not a typical gig or occasion for the Central Kentucky-based Kelly, who’s been doing tributes to Elvis for 40 years and is headlining a two-day show with other Elvis impersonators this weekend in Georgetown.

“It was quite rewarding for me,” Kelly told the Sun. When told Debbie had said Saturday was her best birthday ever, he said, “Wow – that makes me feel even more special.”

Aside from Elvis, Debbie’s other loves are UK basketball and the adult day care facility she’s visited every weekday for more than two decades, save when she was (successfully) fighting cancer two years ago. Darlene says a nurse gave her sister the nickname “Cupcake” many years ago as a play on the “Little Debbie” snack foods and because, well, Debbie likes cupcakes.

At the end of the show, Smith gave Kelly a parting gift of his own: a large trophy with the words “America’s #1 Elvis Impersonator” from the WBEIA Society of America.

WBEIA stands for “We believe Elvis is alive.” Late Saturday morning at Margaret Hall Manor, he was alive and well indeed, as was the birthday girl he’d come to entertain.

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