On January 19, 1946, Dr. Robert F. Thomas delivered, Dolly Rebecca Parton. On a cold, rainy winter day, Dr. Thomas made his way to the Parton's tiny cabin in Locust Ridge to help mother Avie Lee with the birth of her fourth child. Her father Lee Parton, paid Dr. Thomas with the only payment he had to give, a bag of cornmeal.
Dr. Robert F. Thomas is a legendary figure throughout Sevier County, Tennessee. Known as both a minister and family physician, he was committed to better medical care for Sevier County residents. He established clinics around the area and was an advocate for immunization. Dr. Thomas was famous for reaching patients by whatever means were necessary, including often walking throughout the county. He was said to have made over 1,000 house calls a year.
Dolly has never forgotten Dr.Thomas or his contributions to her life and to so many people in her hometown. She once visited him after recording a song named after him on her album, "My Tennessee Mountain Home."
During the visit, she and her father, Lee Parton, sat with him and talked for a while as old friends do. Before leaving, Dolly gave him copies of the album and autographed them for he and his family.
Click below to listen to rare audio of Dolly Parton and her father, Lee Parton, visiting Dr. Robert F. Thomas at his East Tennessee home.
To date, Dolly serves as the honorary chairperson of the Dr. Robert F. Thomas Foundation, a charitable organization established in 1983 to help expand the range and quality of health care services available in Sevier County. Dolly also maintains the beautiful Robert F. Thomas Chapel at her theme park, Dollywood.
A letter from Dolly as chairperson of the foundation hangs inside the Chapel which reads,
“Dr. Thomas was a man of varied talents, a man of infinite love and compassion, abundant energy, contagious enthusiasm, genuine humility and great vision, a friend, a neighbor, counsellor, minister and doctor to the people of Sevier County for over 50 years. His dream was to put an end to pain and suffering. The Foundation aims to ensure continued growth and improvement in medical care for the people of Sevier County, but also to visitors to the mountains.”