In her essay applying for the contest, Gentry outlined how her mother’s loving care helped her special-needs son, George Maupin, flourish into a cheerful man, who was always humming or singing.
“My brother passed away in October and he was 53 when he died, and (when he was born) they didn’t expect him to live a year,” Gentry said.
Those at the hospital felt the baby was simply going home to die. Johnny Maupin had other ideas.
“George was always a blessing, he was never a burden,” Maupin said.
During the “Today” show, Johnny Maupin was honored with the performance of a song by Kathi Lee Gifford after reading Gentry’s application essay.
The song, “A Mother’s Heart,” was performed Broadway actress Carolee Carmello. Johnny Maupin said the song was very touching.
Johnny had no idea Gentry had written about her, and thought the application was solely her son’s story. It wasn’t until she was in New York listening to her tape the reading of her application letter that she realized the application honored her as well as her son’s memory.
Less than a week earlier, Gentry and Johnny Maupin had both been thrown into shock at the announcement they had been chosen.
“I knew for a week and a half that we were one of the three finalists, but we didn’t know (the results),” Johnny Maupin said.
The show told the women to be ready for a phone call on Jan. 6. When the call came the show did a telephone sound check and the two were later announced as the winners.
They were featured on the Wednesday edition of “Today.”
Johnny Maupin found out her story was nominated for the contest on the day after Christmas. The next day she received a call to interview her about the story.
“She always had high expectations, I have an older brother too. For us ... for example, college was not a choice it was expected. She expected us to do that,” Gentry said. “He had high expectations for George as well.”
Johnny Maupin chose to take her son out of the special education school and have him attend public elementary school.
Gentry said this was before inclusion in the classroom was a focus. She said her mother fought for what she thought was right for her child. George Maupin graduated from Bradley Central High School in 1976.
Maupin also encouraged her son to use his musical ability.
“For 18 years, he played the organ at Hopewell Baptist Church in the children’s worship,” Gentry said.
Gentry said she was excited to get to experience New York with her mother. Johnny Maupin had never been to the state.
“The main thing she wanted to see was Times Square,” Gentry said.
Johnny Maupin said it was a great experience and everyone was really nice.
“Not at all what I had pictured of New York,” Johnny Maupin said.
However, both women said they like the pace of life in Bradley County better.
In addition to the trip to New York, mother and daughter will also receive a spa treatment at Blackberry Farms compliments of the show.
Gentry said she had been watching the Kathi Lee and Hoda segment every day for the past year. In November, she began thinking about submitting her mother and brother’s story.