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Dolly’s #1 fan’s dream comes true


Samantha Keith, who has spina bifida, holds the letter she wrote Dolly Parton and a picture of her with the super star, taken this past March. In her 27 years, Keith has undergone 58 surgeries as a result of her medical condition, including emergency surgery the week following the interview for this article.


For Samantha Keith there’s no Dolly Parton song that’s better than another. 

Each is equally as stunning and on constant rotation in the car, in the shower, during therapy sessions, and any other place she can finagle a way to listen. 

  For this girl, Dolly’s self-proclaimed #1 Fan, nothing could top meeting the country music legend in person - and back in March she was able to do just that. 

“I was completely star struck,” said Keith, who wrote a letter to Parton last July to tell her how much she loved and wanted to meet her. Her caretaker even drove her car backwards to the mailbox at the post office so Keith, whose medical condition requires her to use a wheelchair, could mail it herself. In true Dolly fashion she chose a pink envelope and decorated it with butterflies. 

Months went by and they had given up hope of hearing back, when one day this past February caretaker Diana Gerdes received a call on her cell phone. “Dollywood” showed up in the caller ID. 

“I couldn’t believe it,” Gerdes said. “Samantha was spending the night with me that night and I went outside to talk so she wouldn’t hear. It was the Director of Operations of the Dollywood Foundation asking her to visit.” 

  Keith was invited to Dollywood to spend a few days there and meet the bigger-than-life-lady one on one. To help pay for travel expenses she sold painted wooden letters to friends and family.

“It was the best thing I’ve ever done,” Keith said. “Dolly came into the room and sat and talked to me, and I got to sing ‘Coat of Many Colors’ and ‘I Will Always Love You’ with her. It was amazing.”

In the 35 minutes they were together, the two chatted about Dolly’s new movie and her love of toffee-flavored coffee. Keith was accompanied by a few family and friends, including mother Brenda Keith, another caregiver Clara Newberry, cousin Kate Dorsey and aunt Trisha Dorsey. 

“I was so impressed with Dolly,” said Gerdes. “She was so friendly and sweet, and had the cutest giggle. Everyone at the resort was so nice and accommodating and made this very special for Samantha.”

While it was impossible to make Samantha a bigger fan than she already was, her trip made this happy girl a fan for  life.