Underneath the bright yellow, pig-tailed wig, face paint and Raggedy Ann-esque clown costume is a woman who believes everyone deserves a smile, and as "Dee Dee" the clown, it's her goal to deliver.

Dee Kirkpatrick, a twice widowed 76-year-old great-grandmother of two, grandmother of six and aspiring clown, is a believer in keeping active and acting as a "conscious evangelist" each day.

Mrs. Kirkpatrick moved to Tyler 2 1/2 years ago to care for her ailing son and to ease into retirement after her second husband lost his battle with cancer. For two years, she's been active in clowning, an activity she'd dreamed of doing for about two decades.

Mrs. Kirkpatrick was a successful Metroplex-based insurance agent with her own company when she bought a balloon pump 20 years ago and told some family members she wanted to become a clown.

"They were laughing at me when I talked about it then, but now they really laugh," she said.

Mrs. Kirkpatrick said "Dee Dee," the costume and character, allows her to be a "goof" and give her a platform to minister and share God's love. As a self-described people person, she said she constantly finds herself in the path of strangers and acquaintances who need an encouraging word or listening ear.

Mrs. Kirkpatrick twists balloons into animal shapes, tells corny jokes and Sunday-school stories with a clown's humor. She's performed for preschoolers, mentally handicapped children and adults, prisoners and nursing home residents across the area.

"It takes them to a happy place," Mrs. Kirkpatrick said. "It's wonderful to hear that you've made someone's day."

Performing is an extension of ministry for Mrs. Kirkpatrick, who has been on eight mission trips around the globe.

She counts clowning among the activities, including daily walks and weekly western line dancing, that keeps her engaged and active.

"I enjoy being active and learning new things," she said. "I don't intend on sitting in a rocking chair and dwindling away."

Mrs. Kirkpatrick is helping the Rosy Nose Clown Alley, the Tyler chapter of the Texas Clown Association, organize its second convention in the fall.

The group of about 20 active members is planning to bring some of the top professional clowns in the country to Tyler to share their knowledge and demonstrate their skills, including face painting, balloon twisting, juggling and overall entertainment. She expects more than 200 hobbyists and professional clowns from all across the country to participate in the convention, Sept. 30 through Oct. 4.


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