Dolly Parton remembers her humble beginnings

Published 3:12 pm Friday, February 26, 2021

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Even though she’s known around the globe for her stunning songwriting and sparkling personality, Dolly Parton is most well-known in her home state for being an incredibly generous philanthropist. She’s long been a champion for causes that range from childhood literacy to environmental conservation, and last year, she donated $1 million to fund research to develop a cure for COVID-19.
Each year five high school seniors in Sevier County are awarded the Dolly Parton Scholarship, which provides $15,000 for each recipient to pursue a college education.
In 1988, Parton established the Dollywood Foundation, named for her theme park in Sevier County. The foundation’s original goal was to help children in the region “achieve educational success,” but it morphed into the Imagination Library in 1995, a program that distributes books to children across the globe, free of charge, from birth until they begin their first year of school. Children right here in Carter County are recipients of those books.
Soon after launching the Dollywood Foundation, Parton turned her focus to reducing the high school dropout rate in Sevier County. According to the organization, Parton asked every seventh- and eighth-grade student to “buddy up” with another student, promising them $500 in cash after they both successfully graduated from high school. The program was a major success for students in that year — according to the organization, the high school’s dropout rate declined from 35 percent to just 6 percent in response to Parton’s gift.
At a benefit concert in May 2007, Parton raised money for the LeConte Medical Center, a new hospital and cancer center in Sevier County. In addition to the $500,000 raised at the concert, both Dollywood and Parton’s Dixie Stampede dinner theater each pledged $250,000 to the project, bringing the total amount of funds raised to $1 million. The hospital opened in 2010 and named its women’s health ward after Parton.
Through her Dollywood Foundation, Parton pledged that she would donate $1,000 per month for six months to families who lost their homes in the aftermath of wildfires that ripped through the Great Smoky Mountains in 2016. In addition to donating her own money to the My People Fund, Parton also hosted two star-studded telethons to raise funds for fire victims, ultimately raising and donating millions of dollars.
Along with the much-needed cash grants provided to families impacted by the Great Smoky Mountains wildfires, the Dollywood Foundation also provided college scholarships to graduating high school seniors in the region who had lost their homes in the fires.
To celebrate the release of her children’s album, “I Believe In You,” Parton made a $1 million donation to the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Parton’s gift was made in honor of her beloved niece, who was treated for leukemia at the hospital. Shortly after that, Parton helped open the butterfly garden at the hospital, dedicated to her niece.
And, the list goes on and on.
The Tennessee Legislature was on the right track when it voted earlier this month to honor the legendary entertainer and one of its own with a monument in Music City, but Dolly graciously said “No, not now, maybe later after I’m gone.”
“Given all that is going on in the world, I don’t think putting me on a pedestal is appropriate at this time,” Parton said in a statement.
Tennessee State Rep. John Windle, who filed the bill to develop and execute a plan to erect a Dolly Parton statue facing the nearby Ryman Institution, said it well: “At this point in history, is there a better example, not just in America, but in the world of a leader that is a kind, decent, passionate human being? She’s a passionate person who loves everyone, and everyone loves her.”
There was bipartisan support for the statue of Parton, who has already been immortalized in bronze in her hometown of Sevierville.
But, Dolly said no. Parton regards herself primarily as a “song teller” in her most recent book, and that is the way she wants to keep it.
However, we’d all agree there is no more deserving person for the monument than Parton. But Dolly’s refusal tells us much more about the songwriter and celebrity. She has not forgotten her humble beginnings.
Like Dolly, we all need something to remind us where we came from, something to keep us humble.

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