Dolly Parton brings honor to her father and his legacy through her Imagination Library.

Often in life, people face seemingly insurmountable challenges and for some their response to those challenges creates opportunities for greatness. In some cases, this transition can be immediate and in others, it can simmer for years.

In 1995, already an icon of American pop culture and an international success, Dolly Parton launched her Imagination Library. Today, it's a global book gifting organization that has gifted nearly 150 million free books to children around the world. On many occasions, Dolly has shared her inspiration for the program. She said,

"When I started the Imagination Library, it was to honor my Daddy. My Daddy was so smart but he felt crippled with the fact that he couldn't read and write."

Dolly's Father Robert Lee Parton Inspires Her Imagination Library

True, the concept was born in the mid-1990s, but in Dolly's mind, the program actually sprang from a seed planted many, many years earlier. To fully understand the birth of the Imagination Library, we must first look at the life and childhood of Robert Lee Parton, Dolly's father.

Many today know Robert Lee as played by Ricky Schroder in the popular NBC movies Coat of Many Colors and Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love. The real Robert Lee was born in March of 1921. The son of Walter and Bessie Parton, Robert Lee grew up in what was then a typical way with farm work being a big part of his childhood. For Robert Lee, and many children raised by farmers and sharecroppers, circumstances required them to abandon school and labor to help feed their families. It wasn't seen so much as a choice but a duty.

Unfortunately, for Dolly's father, this way of life meant that he didn't get the chance to learn to read and write. Of course, he supplemented these skills by becoming a knowledgeable farmer, shrewd deal maker and skilled tradesman. He may have raised his family with humble means but he instilled a wealth of love and knowledge in each of his children. Still, he would carry the weight of illiteracy for much of his life. That is until Dolly made it her mission to set the wrong, right. Dolly said,

"When I got this idea to do the Imagination Library I wanted to get Daddy involved in it. I wanted him to help me with that so he could take the pride in that and so he did. He got to live long enough to hear the kids call me the Book Lady."

Dolly doesn't just credit her father's disadvantage with being the inspiration for her Imagination Library, she sees it as his divine calling. If life was determined to keep him from learning to read as a child, Dolly believes God was just as determined to create something amazing because of it. Dolly said,

"I kept telling him, everybody has a different purpose in life and if nothing else maybe this is why you couldn't read and write. Maybe God knew a long time ago that I was going to do something that would help millions of kids and people that couldn't read and write. So I tried to give him that pride."

In 2000, Robert Lee Parton departed this world knowing his daughter had made a difference in the lives and hearts of many children through the books gifted by her Imagination Library. At that time, the program was in the infant stages of a national replication effort that would expand its reach beyond Sevier County, Tennessee. Today, Dolly Parton's Imagination Library has gifted nearly 150 million books to children in five countries. In 2018, Dolly Parton, the daughter of Robert Lee Parton - a humble farmer who never had the chance to learn to read and write - dedicated the 100th million book, which she authored herself, to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Indeed, an incredible way to honor her father.

The Imagination Library's full story will play out in a new documentary called The Library That Dolly Built, premiering exclusively on Facebook on December 9, 2020, at 7 PM Eastern.

Dolly Parton and her husband Carl Dean celebrate their Golden Wedding Anniversary!

Dolly and Carl Dean have enjoyed 50 years of wedded bliss despite facing many of life's obstacles common to most married couples and plenty of unique challenges all their own.

They met outside the Wishy Washy Laundromat in Nashville, TN, on the first day Dolly moved to Music City. Falling in love and getting married were, perhaps, the last things on young Dolly Parton's mind. Yet, here was a tall, dark and handsome man who swept her off her feet. She said,

"I was surprised and delighted that while he talked to me, he looked at my face (a rare thing for me). He seemed to be genuinely interested in finding out who I was and what I was about."

Two years after that fateful meeting, Dolly and Carl were married on May 30, 1966. It was Memorial Day, Dolly and Carl traveled to Ringgold, GA, with her mother. They had a simple, private ceremony with only Avie Lee, the preacher and his wife in attendance. Since that day, Dolly and Carl have lived happily-ever-after for 50 years. They've loved and supported each other while respecting each other's independence.

[masterslider id="54"]


Their 50 years of happiness is a true testament to their parents, Avie Lee and Robert Lee Parton and Carl’s mother and father, Virginia "Ginny" Bates Dean and Edgar “Ed” Henry Dean. The Parton's had 12 children and the Dean's had three. Dolly fondly referred to Ginny as Mama Dean and says she was her best friend.

Nearly every aspect of Dolly and Carl's personalities compliment one another. While one would think Dolly would be the most entertaining of the two, she often says that it's Carl's unique sense of humor which keeps her laughing. Given Dolly's larger-than-life outlook on everything, it makes perfect sense that her one-and-only would be equally as special in every way.

Dolly's wedding dress and Carl's suit will be on display at Dolly’s Chasing Rainbows Museum at Dollywood beginning July 1.

Since she has no plans of slowing down, what has worked for Dolly and Carl for the past 50 years is sure to carry them through the next.

Dolly penned her heartfelt emotions for Carl in the words of her song, "From Here to the Moon and Back."

"From here to the moon and back
Who else in this world will love you like that?
Love everlasting, I promise you that
From here to the moon and back"DP-Sig

Dolly Parton shares a Christmas story about surprising her parents with big gifts in this exclusive video from Billboard.

Dolly's parents, Robert Lee and Avie Lee Parton raised 12 children in a tiny cabin in East Tennessee. They taught all their children to appreciate what they had, even if that was very little at times. In turn, Dolly always found joy in giving back to her family, especially her parents. Dolly said,

"It was always my wish to be able to do something great for my family. And, of course, I love my Daddy and my Mamma."

Find out what Dolly calls the "Dolly Mamma" in this exclusive Billboard video.

Billboard Video Exclusive: Dolly Mamma

Starring as Dolly Parton's father in the new NBC movie, Ricky Schroder shares his thoughts on his character, Dolly's approval of his performance and more.

Ricky Schroder plays Robert Lee in "Dolly Parton's Coat of Many Colors." This father of four said he was naturally drawn to watching over the children on set.

[masterslider id="37"][su_spacer]

Q. As you started to develop your character, what things about Robert Lee stood out or perhaps surprised you?

A. I wanted to do a good job in my character for Dolly and her family. This movie is so dear and important to her that I really wanted to honor who her father was and their relationship, because she just adored him. Dolly gave me just a few tidbits of information here and there when we were producing the movie that were extremely helpful about him and his nature and his humor; how he didn't like to waste words. He was a man of few words. It was an honor to play him.

Q. The Parton family is known for their tight-knit bonds. While filming, did the cast develop similar family-like relationships?

A. It's very easy to want to be a father and protector and teacher for those kids. They're such sweet kids, the whole clan. You know, you work together with your coworkers so many hours, and you just get to like them. You get to know them a little bit, you get to know their personalities. I have an extra kind of soft place in my heart for those kids, because they have to work so hard, especially little [Alyvia]. She worked so hard. She carried so much weight, so well, on her broad shoulders that you can't help but feel protective over those kids. That was a wonderful time with those kids.

Q. Considering everything you have done in your career, where does this role rank in your list of achievements?

A. Well, I'll let you know when I see it [laughing]. I have every expectation that it's going to be a movie that I'll be so proud of. I had a lot of good feelings making this movie.

Q. By today's standards, with four children, you have a big family. Was there ever a moment while making this film, you stopped to think about the challenges Robert Lee faced raising a family of 12?

A. Sure, enormous challenges to feed 12, plus yourself and your wife, 14 people. I'm not going to discount the challenges that parents today face either. There's just massive challenges and pressures on today's parents, maybe not providing the basics as what Lee needed to provide... [but] enormous responsibility for sure.

Q. The song "Coat of Many Colors," first debuted in 1971, yet it still has a powerful message for people today. Why do you think people relate so well to this story?

A. Because of Dolly, I think. We all want to know where she came from. She is so special and unique. That's really what this movie shows people, where Dolly came from and who loved her and who was with her and helped nurture her.

Q. Other than "Coat of Many Colors" do you have a favorite Dolly song?

A. Probably one of my favorites is the duet with her and Kenny Rogers, "Islands in the Stream."

Q. What was your favorite moment of making the film or your favorite takeaway?

A. I'm so proud of so many people who worked so hard on the movie. My favorite takeaway... probably a note that Dolly wrote me one day when we were in production. She said she had been watching the dailies, you know the work from the previous days. She was so glad she chose me to play her father. That was a pretty special moment to get that letter from her.

See more cast interviews and tune in Thursday, December 10 at 9/8c on NBC to watch Ricky Schroder as Robert Lee Parton in "Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors."

Important Links:

A Testament Of One Father's Love

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Dolly's most beloved accomplishment, her Imagination Library, a book gifting program that has mailed more than 70 million free books to children all around the world. Dolly is quick to tell you that although her father, Lee Parton, was one of the most intelligent men she's ever known, his inability to read was her inspiration for Imagination Library. The program was started in Sevier County, Tennessee, where Dolly was born and raised, and continues to touch the lives of children around the globe.

Her father may have been unable to read the words "determination and generosity," but his life certainly defined them. Each morning, he left for a hard day's work in the mountains of East Tennessee carrying with him a green lunchbox that his children affectionately referred to as "Daddy's dinner bucket." When his weather-beaten hands opened up that box, his kind heart compelled him to save a portion of his lunch to share with his young children. When he returned home in the evenings, they were eager to greet him and see what he had saved for them. Oftentimes, it was part of a bologna sandwich or a piece of pie. To most people, a fragment of a sandwich and a stale piece of pie may not seem like much, but the children would take those tasty treats to a hideaway under a blackberry bush and have a picnic fit for a king.

When remembering her beloved father and the story of his dinner bucket, Dolly said,

"Our sweet Daddy worked so hard for all of us.  At night we used to take turns rubbing Daddy's cracked, hard-working hands with corn silk lotion and we soaked and washed his tired old feet.  My sister Willadeene sweetly (and jokingly) dried them with her long beautiful hair. If Jesus could wash the feet of his disciples, at least we could do it for Daddy.  If you're lucky enough to have great parents, it's truly one of God's greatest gifts. Happy Father's Day to all the good daddies out there...and to the bad ones, too. Maybe they weren't lucky enough to have a Daddy as good as mine."

For years, that routine continued, day in and day out, as he worked tirelessly to provide for his wife and twelve children. On the day he finally retired, and with that same spirit of generosity, he gave his lunchbox away to another hardworking man, Oscar Dunn.

Dolly's younger brother, Randy, dropped by the studio and shared this wonderful memory with us for Father's Day and sang a little bit of the "Dinner Bucket Song," a song that Dolly had actually written about Mr. Lee's dinner bucket.

Many years later, with the dinner bucket being little more than a memory, the Parton family said goodbye to their beloved daddy who passed away just a few weeks before Christmas in 2000. He was laid to rest in the beautiful mountains he loved so dearly.

It was a difficult Christmas for all of the kids after saying their final goodbyes to their daddy. Randy, Dolly's younger brother, was in for a special surprise on that Christmas Eve. On that cold night in December, Randy’s wife Deb handed him a brown paper bag. He opened it and discovered one of the greatest gifts he had ever received...his daddy's dinner bucket! He was overwhelmed with emotion. Unbeknownst to Randy, Deb had made arrangements with Oscar’s sweet wife Faye and son Grant to bring Mr. Lee’s lunchbox back home to the Parton family. Memories flooded his mind as he examined it closely. What he found, a surprise much sweeter than any piece of pie, was that his father had learned to write his name and had scratched it into the green paint on that old dinner bucket.

That priceless green dinner bucket represents the immeasurable determination and generosity of a hardworking man whose legacy is not only etched into the hearts of his children, but also into the hearts of countless children around the world...and the story goes page at a time...

[masterslider id="14"]



All Things Dolly
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.