Wolmuth, 39, joined LIFE right out of Williams College in 1968 as a promotion copywriter. Two years later he became a writer on TIME, then moved to PEOPLE in 1977. He and his wife, Sheila Dugan, a third-year law student, live in Manhattan's SoHo section with the two youngest of her five daughters. As a senior writer, Wolmuth is rarely free to report as well as write a story. "So I have to choose," he says. A guitar picker himself, Wolmuth seized the opportunity to revisit a personal hero.
On their first day together, Monroe hosted Wolmuth and Gahr at his Goodlettsville, Tenn. farmstead. "He seemed less stern to me than before," says Wolmuth. "I think he had mellowed out a bit." Monroe was particularly proud of four colts born the day before, and "one by one he brought them out," says Wolmuth, "just like he was showing off new babies."
After watching Monroe perform on the Grand Ole Opry, reporter and photographer followed him to Bean Blossom, where their sudden appearance during Monroe's first set gave him an opening for some typical humor. "Folks, looky there, that fellow's from PEOPLE magazine," Monroe called out to the audience. "They've been doing a story on me, and I haven't had to pay for a meal all week." Gentleman that he is, Monroe reciprocated with a parting dinner of his own. "It was a touching farewell," says Wolmuth. "He had shared a great deal with us, both music and memories. We regretted having to leave him."