Dolly Parton has always talked about her father – Robert Lee Parton – and how he provided for their family “by the bend of his back and the sweat of his brow.”
The family patriarch first worked as a sharecropper in the mountains of East Tennessee and eventually started tending his own small tobacco farm and acreage. However, the farm’s income was never enough for his wife and twelve children that Robert also took some construction jobs. Dolly recalled how they used to take turns rubbing their father’s hard-working and weather-beaten hands using corn silk lotion.
Although their house is filled with love, the family struggled every day living in poverty and money has always been an issue. In fact, when Dolly Parton was born, her father couldn’t afford to pay the doctor, so he gave him a sack of cornmeal instead.
Despite their financial issues, he was never lacking when it comes to supporting Dolly’s career in music. Dolly once revealed how her father would take “a bucket of soapy water in the back of his pick-up truck” at night to clean the statue of Parton that had been put up in her hometown of Sevier County, Tennessee. He is even proudly sporting a “Dolly Parton for President” sticker on his truck’s bumper.
So, it was no longer a surprise when Robert inspired a number of Dolly’s songs – this includes “Daddy’s Working Boots” and “The Dinner Bucket.” But the best part was how Robert inspired Dolly to launch the Imagination Library, a nonprofit organization that provides free books to children.
Robert Lee Parton never had a chance to go to school because he had to help his parents make a living for the family. He never learned how to read and write – and this has always been a source of humiliation and frustration for him.
So, Dolly decided to do something special about it by getting him involved in helping her with the Imagination Library. The singer believes telling her father’s story would help other people not to feel embarrassed about their situations. And as Dolly hoped for, Robert took pride in being a part of the organization. In fact, he loved it whenever children would refer to Dolly as “The Book Lady.”
Indeed, we have Robert to thank for, as thousands of children can now enjoy literature from a young age no matter what their financial background is. We’re sure Dolly Parton’s siblings are so proud of him!
Robert Lee Parton died in 2000 at the age of 79 at the Baptist Hospital of East Tennessee in Knoxville. He passed away of complications after suffering a number of strokes in the weeks that led to his passing.
Dolly Parton, Robert Lee Parton
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