Brenda Kay Laney Rives Packer

Published 12:11 pm Wednesday, May 8, 2024

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April 23, 2024

Brenda Kay Laney Rives Packer of Demopolis passed away surrounded by her loved ones on the morning of April 23, 2024 at the still way too young age of 75. She was a woman of many names, many friends, and many gifts. Over the course of her adventurous life she was known as Brenda, Blaney, BK, Shea’s Mom, Miss Brenda, Mama Brenda, or just Mom, but regardless of the name she went by, she was truly a spectacular person.

Her earliest home was a small farmhouse right outside the city limits of Albertville, where she was born in the fall of 1948, the only child of Hubert and Louise Laney. She was the apple of her parents’ eyes and grew up playing with her many cousins in the hills and hollers of northeast Alabama. Despite being diagnosed with diabetes at around age 10, she was a vibrant and lively child. By the time she graduated from Albertville High School in 1967 (Go Aggies!), this bright young girl (straight A’s in Mrs. Taylor’s sixth grade class) had become a beautiful young woman.

She then moved to Nashville as the first member of her family to attend college, enrolling at David Lipscomb University in the fall of 1968 to study Art. There, she became known as Blaney (because of the way she signed her artworks) and worked as an usherette at The Grand Ole Opry, helping to host performances by musical greats like Johnny Cash and June Carter, among many others.

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By spring of 1969, a pen pal relationship with Lawrence Rives, a young man from her hometown stationed with the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam, had blossomed into a romance, and they were married in Nashville on June 7 of that year. After a brief stint in Columbus, Georgia, the young couple settled in Gadsden, where their son, Shea Rives was born. The young family found a home at their “Big Green House” on Walnut Street and set up housekeeping. But the early 1970s were a time of great upheaval and change, and despite the love they shared, the marriage did not survive.

By 1976, after a brief time in Stone Mountain, Georgia, Brenda and Shea made their way back home to Gadsden, where Brenda (now B.K.) discovered and came to rely on the grit and determination bequeathed to her as a grandchild of the Great Depression, crafting a career for herself as a court reporter from thin air. To make ends meet, she worked as a secretary, as a cocktail waitress, she practiced for interminable hours on her stenograph machine, and she loved the heck out of her friends and her son. By the time 1980 rolled around, she had passed her court reporting certification, and things began to look up. In 1981, she was offered her first “real job” working for the State of Alabama as the official court reporter for Marengo, Greene and Hale counties. So in the summer of that year, they loaded up the car, left behind their home and friends, and took off for Demopolis, the “city of the people.”

Demopolis was always a special place for Brenda. There was something about the people. Something about the river. Something like home. Despite being constantly reminded that she wasn’t really “from” there, she fell whole-heartedly in love with the place and set about proving that, wherever she was “from,” by God, she belonged there. She put down roots. She joined the Canebrake Players, a local theater group, she grew professionally, and she saw her house become a hub of activity for Shea and his high school friends. Best of all, she began cultivating the many friendships that would last for the rest of her life.

Shea eventually moved to Auburn for school (as an Alabama fan, she used to tease him that writing checks to Auburn University was the hardest thing she’d ever done), and she finally found and bought her little dream house on Main Avenue, with a beautiful view of the river right outside the back door. She became the co-owner of the Cellar, a funky little watering hole in downtown Demopolis, and began hosting the now infamous Christmas on the River parties at her house. There was always fabulous food, fireworks from the back porch and live music by whatever rock-and-roll band Shea was playing with at the time. Her house once again became a hub of activity with laughter and deep conversations around the kitchen table lasting late into the evenings. As life went on, Shea got married and began bringing her grandchildren, Ashby and India to visit. Eventually she was able to retire from court reporting. Through the years she experienced the loss of several of her dearest friends and eventually her parents, Hubert and Louise, but she found joy volunteering as a “pink lady” at the local hospital.

Then one summer day in 2010, she ran into Ken Puzak, a friend she hadn’t seen in years. The day was June 15, and fate had smiled on them both. This time around the cards held much more than friendship for them, and soon they were inseparable. They fell in love, they became family, and they found a life with each other. They went on weekend trips, they visited friends, they played Rummikub, they talked, they ate, they laughed, and they talked more.

Brenda Packer was a lifelong seeker, and in the last years of her life, she found what she was looking for. There in Demopolis with Ken, she finally enjoyed the peaceful and enduring happiness that she had always sought. Food, family, friends. Home. At last, she had found home.

Ken and Shea would love to invite any and all who may have known her to one last gathering at Brenda’s house, 609 North Main Avenue in Demopolis, at or around 2 p.m. on the afternoon of Saturday, May 25, 2024 to celebrate her life. We’ll do what we’ve always done there. We’ll sit around the table, we’ll eat, we’ll talk, we’ll laugh, we’ll love, and we’ll remember. We’ll remember Miss Brenda Kay Laney Rives Packer, the little lady with the great big name, and we’ll thank her once again for her generous hospitality and her amazing grace in sharing her life with us.

In lieu of flowers, Ken and Shea ask that you consider making a donation to the American Diabetes Association in her name. Please visit for details.”