Who Was Robert F. Thomas, the Mountain Doctor Who Delivered Dolly Parton?
We wouldn’t have Dolly Parton if it weren’t for, of course, her parents, but also the doctor who delivered her, Dr. Robert F. Thomas. The mountain doctor was a bit of a jack of all trades, wearing many different hats in Parton’s hometown in the Smoky Mountains.
However, Dr. Thomas had no idea that he’d help bring a future pop icon into the world one snowy day in 1946. Here’s everything we know about the doctor who delivered Dolly Parton.
The doctor who delivered Dolly Parton was an ‘educated city man’
Parton wrote in her 2020 book, Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics, that Dr. Thomas was an “educated city man” who had a couple of different jobs in her town. First and foremost, he was a man of faith, just as religious as Parton’s parents. He always tried his best to get to his patients in the mountains.
“Dr. Thomas was a missionary and a very educated city man,” Parton wrote. “I think he was born and raised in New York. He had been sent overseas with his family. His son got some disease that was so severe that they came back to the United States.
“He was a Methodist, and the church decided to send him somewhere else. They sent him to the Smoky Mountains because of the poor people there.” Dr. Thomas had no idea that taking care of the town in the mountains was going to be such hard work, and nothing he’d ever experienced before.
Dr. Thomas had a lot to deal with as the doctor in the mountains
The “9 to 5” singer continued to write that it was a challenge for Dr. Thomas to get to his patients. He needed a horse to get there fast and safely. However, he had to worry about certain patients pulling a gun on him. Someone even threatened to kill Dr. Thomas once.
“He pastored a church and had a little clinic beside the church,” Parton wrote. “It was in a community called Pittman Center. There were so many poor people who lived up in those mountains that he always kept a horse, because that’s the only way he could get to those folks.”
“He was such a wonderful man. But he would go up into those mountains with those country people, and a lot of them would hold a gun on him: ‘If my wife dies or my daughter dies, you’re going to die, too.’ There’s lots of stories about him.”
“But anytime you cut a leg half off—you couldn’t go all the way to Knoxville to the nearest hospital—you’d go get Dr. Thomas. He was the one who snipped your tonsils or did whatever. I still remember that antiseptic smell in his little clinic by the church. He was there to save those poor people of the mountains, and he was kind of a savior to us.”
The doctor delivered Dolly Parton in exchange for a sack of cornmeal
With as many Parton kids as there were, the doctor became very good friends with the singer’s family simply because he frequently delivered their children.
“There were twelve of us kids,” Parton continued. “Six of us were born at home, and six were born in hospitals. I’m one of the older ones. I have a sister and two brothers older than me. A lot of the kids, my grandma or my aunts would help deliver. But if you had problems, you had to send for Dr. Thomas.”
Parton’s father paid Dr. Thomas a cornmeal sack to deliver Parton since the family didn’t have anything else to give him. “I was born on January 19, and it was snowing. When I was trying to be born, Mom was having trouble so Daddy had to ride his horse out to Pittman to get Dr. Thomas to ride with him back to our place.
“He certainly couldn’t drive there. Dr. Thomas came and helped deliver me. Daddy didn’t have any money, but we always raised corn and had cornmeal. So I always make a joke that ‘Dr. Thomas was paid for with a sack of cornmeal, and I’ve been raking in the dough ever since.'”
Parton is now 76 years old, and she’s still making that dough, thanks in part to Dr. Thomas.