Good Samaritan Free Clinic executive director Cindy Sparks, here with past board chairman Dr. Sam Pace, passed away Thursday. She led the clinic which serves the working uninsured in Lee County for 25 years.

TUPELO • For 25 years, Cindy Sparks steered the Antone Tannehill Good Samaritan Free Clinic, firmly establishing the medical home for Lee County’s working uninsured.

In the wake of her death Thursday night after an extended illness, clinic supporters remembered her compassion and commitment to the clinic’s patients.

“She’s probably the most compassionate person I’ve ever met in the medical community,” said retired Dr. Sam Pace, immediate past president of the Good Samaritan board.

Founded in 1992 by the late Dr. Antone Tannehill and a small group of community volunteers, the, Good Samaritan clinic provided health care and medications for Lee County residents who were working or going to school but didn’t make enough to access health insurance. Since the doors opened, the clinic has logged more than 69,000 patient visits.

Sparks joined the clinic staff in 1994, leaving a career as a nursing instructor.

“She took a large cut in pay because she had this passion to help people who needed help,” said retired Dr. Barney Guyton, the current chairman of the clinic’s board.

During her tenure, Sparks fostered an atmosphere that was welcoming to patients, their families and the volunteers who provided the clinic’s services, said Melinda Tidwell, executive director of the United Way of Northeast Mississippi.

“She knew all the patients by name,” Tidwell said. “She made it a place you wanted to be, something you wanted to be a part of.”

As an advocate, Sparks would share how the clinic’s patients often worked multiple jobs and yet couldn’t access health insurance. Without the clinic providing care and medications without cost, they would have to prioritize food and rent over health care, Pace said. By managing chronic conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes, they could avoid complications that could be disabling. They could continue to work and care for their families.

“She felt that the patients of the clinic were her calling and her ministry,” said her son Taylor Sparks of Tupelo. “All of her efforts were focused on patients.”

Sparks had a gift for infecting others with her passion to help the clinic’s patients. With kind persistence, she would recruit volunteers, search out resources and encourage donors.

“She wouldn’t take no for an answer,” said Annette Reed, board vice chairwoman.

Sparks led the creation of the annual roast, which raises more than $100,000 each year for the clinic’s operations. Sparks managed the details of the large event with enthusiasm, Guyton said.

“It was a huge, huge night; it always went well,” Guyton said. “It was our biggest fundraiser, and she was always excited about it.”

Beyond her medical skills and event planning techniques, Sparks was a master grant writer who stretched the clinic’s resources.

“She made all the gears click,” said Scott Reed, who took a turn as the roast’s honoree and has served as master of ceremonies at recent roasts.

During Sparks’ illness, the clinic staff members – registered nurse Kitti Parman, Debra Agnew, Claire Jenkins and Annette Porter – have stepped up as a team to take on pieces of her duties.

“I couldn’t be more proud of current staff,” Pace said. “It’s going to be hard to replace Cindy.”

The board is moving deliberately to find a new director to build on Sparks’ legacy.

“Even though she’s gone, it’s going to continue to flourish,” Guyton said.

Sparks, who was 64, is survived by her husband Marty Sparks, her sons Taylor and Sam and their families. Services will be at 4 p.m. Dec. 13 at St. Luke United Methodist Church. Visitation will be that day from 2 p.m. until service time. In lieu of flowers, the family encourages memorials to the Good Samaritan Clinic.

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