He left his home in the country and an almost certain life as a sharecropper when he was only seventeen years old. Of course, there were other reasons as well. There was his mama who needed all the financial help she could get. There was no father in the picture at this time as Garner Parker had died sometime between 1910 and 1920. His mother, Katie Pinkerton Parker, lived to the age of 112! Katie’s mother had been a slave in her early life. As it turned out, this move not only benefited him and his mama, it was a long-term blessing for the people of Houston and surrounding area.
It was 1924 when Tommie Lee Parker, Sr., came to town. He was employed by Dr. Van B. Philpot, who was the administrator and surgeon at the Houston Hospital, located at that time on the northeast corner of North Jackson and Depot Street. Tommie Lee’s initial job there was a ‘boiler tender’ or, as noted on the 1930 census, “fireman”. He kept the boiler going, but it was soon evident to Dr. Philpot that this young man had much more potential than one who merely stoked the fires in the boiler. Tommie Lee Parker had a gift and Dr. Philpot recognized that gift. He soon became an “orderly”. I had to look this term up as I didn’t know what level of expertise was required in that day. I learned that they were ‘nurse assistant’ or ‘surgery assistant’ and Tommie Lee Parker served well in both capacities. I know that he assisted patients and medical staff in so many ways. He took X-rays, he applied casts, he removed casts, he sutured a patient after surgery or to close a wound. There were no initials after his name, but he was truly a medical assistant. Even today, one can hear stories of his kindness and helpfulness to patients at the hospital during his time there.
Dr. John D. Dyer, a local ‘lad’ as Dr. Philpot described him, came on board at our hospital in the early forties. This physician also recognized the abilities of our Tommie Lee. Many a patient in that era can attest to his helpfulness and abilities. Later on as the medical field became more structured and ‘certification’ became a reality, he assumed another responsibility, that of ambulance driver. Parker was employed at the hospital in Houston a total of sixty faithful years.
In 1926, Tommie Lee Parker married the love of his life – one Jessie Kennedy. She was born in Winston County. After graduating high school in Pontotoc County, Jessie was another young woman who ‘took nursing training’ at the Houston Hospital under the direction of Dr. Philpot. If you are a tad north of 60 years old, you probably remember a dark brick home, just north of the hospital and just south of the sunken railroad track, that housed nurses ‘in training’. Jessie worked as a registered nurse at the hospital and as a private nurse in the community for many years. She also served as school nurse for the Chickasaw County High School for several years. Tommie Lee and Jessie became the parents of four sons and one daughter. Only one survives today and that is their daughter, Mrs. Williestein Harper. She has been a much loved and respected teacher in the Houston School system for many years.
The medical world is not the only one where Tommie Lee Parker contributed his knowledge and abilities. In his church life, he served as a deacon of the Houston Second Baptist Church for forty years. Tommie Lee was also a 32nd degree Mason and was a member of the Masonic Lodge # 80 in Houston. He was a Shriner of Masonic Chapter at 441. Another area that was a recipient of his time and knowledge was the Boy Scouts of America. Tommie Lee served on the Executive Committee for the Boy Scouts of America and received the Silver Beaver Award.
Tommie Lee Parker departed this life in April of 1994, just after his eighty-eighth birthday. Jessie died in November of 1995, at the age of ninety-one.
I can barely remember this kind, soft-spoken black man in his white uniform. I know that he assisted my mother on numerous occasions as she brought my brother back to the hospital time and again after a rather complicated break in his leg. My mother spoke of him ‘helping get Jack in the hospital’ from the back seat of someone’s car, taking him to the radiology area and X-raying his leg. I remember him as being quite tall, especially when you are a little girl looking up at him.
Tommie Lee Parker was a man worth remembering and respecting and I know there are many of us in this community who appreciate him and his legacy.