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VOL. 45 | NO. 6 | Friday, February 5, 2021

Dolly knows new statue would be for the birds

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Whatever adjectives might be attached to Dolly Parton – and many come to mind – “underappreciated” would not seem to apply.

Aside from music-related awards too numerous to list, she’s a former Ms. Magazine Woman of the Year, holder of honorary doctorates from Carson-Newman College and the University of Tennessee, a Kennedy Center honoree and a recipient of the American Legion Good Guy Award, Woodrow Wilson Public Service Award and the National Medal of Arts.

She even has a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, for her Imagination Library reading program for preschool children. Culturally, she’s attained single-name status – like Elvis or Cher.

And yet ...

Two measures in the Tennessee General Assembly would add to her distinctions. One urges President Joe Biden to bestow upon her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

The other calls for a statue of her to be placed on the Capitol grounds, joining the likes of Sgt. Alvin C. York and Presidents Andrew Jackson and Andrew Johnson.

I think we can agree that a Dolly statue would be a visual upgrade to that lineup.

This is not the first time legislators have turned their attention to Dolly. Just last year, in a resolution recounting her abundant talents and laurels, they recognized and honored her “for her devoted and compassionate service to her fellow Tennesseans and millions around the world through her cultural contributions and philanthropy. ...”

It passed both the House and the Senate without dissent. (One representative was recorded as present and not voting. I hope his excuse is that he was unconscious.)

As for the Presidential Medal, Dolly says President Trump offered it to her twice. She now says it might seem like a political slight if she accepted it from Biden.

TV host Stephen Colbert recently called former President Barack Obama to account for not offering.

“Actually, that was a screw-up,” Obama responded. “I’m surprised. I think I assumed that she had already gotten one, and that was incorrect.”

“She deserves one,” he added. “I’ll call Biden.”

Calling Biden is, in effect, what Sen. Heidi Campbell’s resolution on the Medal of Freedom would do. Campbell also is a supporter of the statue bill.

“In these divided times,” she says in an email message, “the one thing that I believe most every single Tennessean can agree on is that Dolly Parton is a national treasure whose accomplishments and contributions deserve recognition.”

The sponsor of the statue legislation, Rep. John Mark Windle, says various constituents over the years had suggested that something be done for her.

“She’s a decent kind of person who is a good example of somebody we should recognize in Tennessee,” he adds. “She loves everybody, and everybody loves her.”

As it happens, Dolly isn’t the only person being considered for a statue on the Capitol grounds.

Rep. David Hawk has again brought a bill calling for a statue of David Crockett to be placed above the Motlow Tunnel entrance on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

The legislature created a commission to raise funds for such a statue in 2012. Hawk’s bill nudging things along cleared a number of committee hurdles last year but ultimately didn’t make it out of the Calendar and Rules Committee.

If legislators should decide that the Capitol could do with one more statue, but not two, I wonder which would prevail? I’ve written before suggesting that Crockett might be the greatest Tennessean ever.

But I wouldn’t want to bet against Dolly, who, by the way, already has a statue. It’s been on the courthouse lawn in Sevierville since 1987, near her birthplace in Locust Ridge. In an interview some while back, Dolly told how her father had counseled humility in connection with it:

“I thought, ‘A statue of me in the courthouse yard? That’s usually reserved for presidents and people that have done really great things like that.

“So I went home and I said, ‘Daddy, did you know they’re putting a statue of me ... down at the courthouse?’

“And Daddy said, ‘Well yeah, I heard about that.’ And he said, ‘Now to your fans out there you might be some sort of an idol. But to them pigeons, you ain’t nothing but another outhouse.’”

Joe Rogers is a former writer for The Tennessean and editor for The New York Times. He is retired and living in Nashville. He can be reached at jrogink@gmail.com

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