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January 23, 2013

Music legend stayed true to roots

Lifelong entertainer remembered for deep love of family, fans

Athens — The bright stage lights would go dim and the dressing rooms full of entertainers would empty, signaling the end of another successful jamboree or showcase.

It was in these twilight moments of performance that country music legend Tony Douglas would shine brightest. He would stay after shows for hours, if need be, to shake hands, trade stories and sign autographs for fans eager to have just a moment of face time with the uncommonly accessible and affable Texan.

“He loved his fans — period,” said Douglas’ son, Hank. “His fans were his friends.”

Douglas, known to family and friends alike as “Papa T,” died Tuesday after a year-long battle with cancer. He was 83.

Visitation is scheduled for Friday from 6-8 p.m. at Carroll-Lehr Funeral Home in Athens. Funeral services will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday at First Baptist Church of Athens with Larry Fondren officiating.

For more than three decades, Tony Douglas and The Shrimpers traveled the country, voicing a musical twang rooted along the banks of his beloved Kickapoo Creek and refined by a lifelong love of East Texas. He was born April 12, 1929, in Martin’s Mill and never wandered much farther away than Athens, where he lived for 54 years with his wife, Margaret.

Douglas’ love of the area was none more apparent than in the late 1950s, when he famously turned down a contract offer with the Grand Ole Opry upon learning the agreement would have forced his family to move to Nashville.

If the surprising decision hurt the career arc that was propelling his contemporaries to superstardom, Douglas’ fans didn’t seem to notice. In 1961, he gained national attention with his song, “Shrimpin,” a tune so popular that his band — once known as the Country Gentlemen — were soon referred to as “The Shrimpers.”

After “Shrimpin,” Douglas recorded “His n’ Hers,” an album that sold 750,000 copies and cracked the Top 30 on the music charts. Another hit, “Thank You For Touching My Life,” appeared in the Top 40 in 1972.

In 1995, a year or two after he opened his popular “Papa T’s” produce shop on State Highway 19 south, Douglas was inducted into the Country Music Association of Texas Hall of Fame.

Though Douglas’ status as a legendary musician was earned on the road, his legacy was forged at home with his family.

Douglas’ children, who spent many hours by their father’s side as he remained hospitalized in intensive care over the past two weeks, remembered their dad as a man of strong discipline, strong faith, unshakeable patriotism and undying love of family.

“He loved his music, he loved his family and he loved the Lord,” his daughter, Tonya Mowery, said.

Mowery said the children were blessed to have grown up in a household where their parents would continually say, “I love you.”

That message was hammered home all the more by the love exhibited between Tony and Margaret, known as “Mim” by most. They would have been married 64 years this coming March.

“It’s blown my mind to see how strong she’s been over the past two weeks,” said Hank, who was not only named after his father’s musical idol, Hank Williams, but who also has the claim to fame of once being babysat by Patsy Cline.

Jason, the youngest of the siblings, said his parents did more than talk about love and sacrifice. He recalled a time when, as a child, a man approached his father asking for money for Christmas. It was a lot to ask, considering money was tight for the Douglas family, as well,

Never one to deny a favor, Douglas retreated to a back room, and returned with a $100-bill in hand, which he then handed to the man.

Such acts of kindness didn’t go unnoticed, even if they never became widely known.

“I know they did without so I could have things,” Jason said. “But they were that way with anybody.”

———

In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to Landmark Baptist Church, 1313 Palestine Highway, Athens, Texas, 75751, or an organization of choice.

Also, the Douglas family wishes to offer special thanks to Dr. Doug Curran and the ICU staff at East Texas Medical Center in Athens.

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