Induction Year: 2017
The Milan Mirror, The Milan Mirror-Exchange
Bob Parkins was born in Bolivar, Tennessee on July 12, 1929. The family moved to Milan his senior year of high school. He graduated from Milan High School before attending the University of Tennessee-Martin, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in agriculture. There he played football alongside future Tennessee Governor Ned McWherter. He later earned his master’s degree in dairy science, as well as an undergraduate degree in journalism at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
He served four years in the U.S. Air Force beginning in 1947 and was stationed in Panama.
Bob married Dorris Fly and together they raised eight children in their 56-year marriage.
For 27 years he managed to balance two very demanding vocations, dairy farming and journalism.
He began his career in journalism while at UT-Martin. His English professor challenged the class to write an article. If they could get it published, they would receive an A. Bob took on the challenge and got his story published in The (Memphis) Commercial Appeal. According to his wife, Dorris, that set him on fire and he was constantly writing.
For several years he served as state correspondent for The (Nashville) Tennessean, The Nashville Banner, and The (Memphis) Commercial Appeal. As a full-time correspondent he filed local community features and occasional hard news pieces at a time when city papers tried to cover more territory through the use of stringers.
In 1965, he and Dorris founded The Milan Mirror, launching a career and creating a family legacy in community journalism. They purchased The Milan Exchange in 1977, naming the new enterprise The Milan Mirror-Exchange. He was well known for his weekly editorial column “BP’s Parking Place,” where his strong opinions and conservative views were clear. His first Mirror editorial was published July 21, 1965 and titled “To Be, or Not To Be,” and advocated the “urgent need” for a larger and better library facility in Milan.
He published and edited more than 2,200 consecutive editions of the Milan newspaper until his death in 2008. He said he never planned to retire.
His quest for “the truth” made him a natural fit as “a working editor and publisher” who produced news stories, features, editorials, and headlines for each week’s paper. He decided what went on Page One. He despised dishonesty and corruption, and he was ruthless in his pursuit of the truth. For one series of investigative stories, Parkins befriended an ex-convict who knew firsthand about corrupt activities going on inside the Davidson County Jail, where his source worked as a trustee. When the time was right, Parkins called on the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation for assistance, and former Davidson County Sheriff Fate Thomas was arrested and eventually jailed as a result of his investigation.
Another time, Parkins broke stories describing theft and misuse of funds in the Gibson County Gas District. That utility’s director also went to jail after the story made Page One week after week.
He did not cater to the powers that be, and he often played the role of watchdog to protect the public interest. Although his pieces were sometimes critical and offended some readers, he often urged them to make the best out of life and never take it for granted. “Too many folks sweat the little stuff and let the big prizes go by unclaimed,” Bob wrote in one of his last columns. “Laughter is good for the soul. We only cheat ourselves when we forget to count our blessings.”