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History Bytes: A ‘true Southern lady’ Mary Ellen Vickers Parkinson

February 15, 2024
By Anna Ridilla

The second History Bytes program for 2024 featured Boca Grande native Carolyn Parkinson Nabers sharing about her mother’s life on the island. Mary Ellen Vickers Parkinson was “a true Southern lady,” she said. 

Carolyn spoke to a full crowd in the Johann Fust Library Loggia on Wednesday morning next to a table filled with historic photos of her parents and the island (and some Valentine’s Day chocolates).

Betsy Joiner, who’s own mother was on the founding board of the Boca Grande Historical Society, introduced the program, part of the “Herstory” series which features important women in island history.

After all, “Who’s behind all the strong men? It’s the women!” Joiner said.

Carolyn, who admitted at the beginning of her speech is not a public speaker, began by explaining some of her family tree, including her husband Clyde whom she married 63 years ago. 

Clyde, who lived in the fishing village of Gasparilla until he was six years old, purchased the Chevron service station at the corner of Fourth Street and Park Avenue in 1963 alongside his wife. They owned and operated the gas station until 1999.

Carolyn’s mother, Mary, was born in 1918 in Charlotte Harbor, and lived to be 86. She had four brothers and two sisters and her father was a farmer who worked on the train trestle to Boca Grande in 1907.

Mary’s first job was registering people to vote at the Charlotte County Courthouse. “Voting was always very important to mom,” Carolyn said. 

The man who would become her husband, Thomas Samuel Parkinson – Tom or Tommy – was born in 1914. They were married in 1939 in Charlotte Harbor where Tom also grew up, commercial fishing and guiding.

By the time the two were married, Tom was manager of the the Boca Grande Fishery, a branch of the Gasparilla Fishery that was located at East Dock on the end of Fourth Street.

“Mom’s first job was her family,” Carolyn said. “She stayed busy. Never a paid employee of the fishery, she helped out – she answered the phone, took the fish orders, wrapped the fish after Daddy had cleaned them and often delivered on her bike.”

Mary had the reputation of a great cook and she collected cookbooks. She was always baking pies, cakes and cookies for the school, church and community bake sales, Carolyn said. 

“Tommy and Mary were always there for the fisherman,” Joiner added.

Mary tended a garden in the lot that is now located between J.McLaughlin and The Temptation. She raised a few vegetables and lots of flowers. She also collected shells and had an amazing collection that is still in the family. 

David Futch, author of “Historic Tales of Gasparilla Island,” was in attendance and shared an anecdote about Tommy and how he would always help anyone in need. 

“When he knew someone was in trouble he would put some fish in a paper bag or wrap it up and maybe put a can of beans on their front steps,” Futch said.

“Never said a word about this. That’s how kind Tommy Parkinson was.”

There are two more programs planned for the History Bytes “Herstory” series.

Next week will feature artist Leslie Porter Joiner who will share her paintings that tell the stories of her grandmother, Effie Sapp Joiner.

On Feb. 28, Viola Dyer of Arrow Environmental Services will tell her story of island life beginning in the 1980s.

Each discussion starts at 11 a.m. in the library’s loggia. They are free to attend and open to all. See