A Story of Multi-Generational Leadership
Local civic, church, family, and community leadership is alive and well in Carthage in multiple generations of the family of Don and Sallie Lipsey. While Sallie was raised in Palestine, and her father's family from there, her mother's family has deep Panola County roots in the Snap Community. Her grandparents and great grandparents are buried in Bethlehem Cemetery; the latter, William Randolph and Sarah Emmaline (“Miss Sallie”) Page gave the property to start the cemetery.
Don and Sallie met in Palestine in 1970; Don was running his father's ranch in nearby Oakwood and living in Palestine next door to Sallie's parents. She was teaching in Alvin but would see Don when visiting her parents. Don decided to leave the ranching business and go to mortuary school in Houston. “I left ranching because I felt like I was working 24/7,” he jokes, “then got into a profession where I really WAS on call 24/7!” Sallie adds, “Yes, and I thought I was dating a cowboy, and then ended up with a mortician!” They married on Don’s birthday, September 18, and Don's first job after finishing mortuary school was at Thompson Funeral Home in Jacksonville, which was still observing the old custom that funeral homes provided ambulance service to the community, at a cost of $7.50 per call. Sallie finished out the school year in Alvin and was then hired to teach third grade in Jacksonville.
“After Christmas that first year,” says Sallie, “we met and befriended a man from Henderson named Billy Crawford, owner of Crawford A. Crim Funeral Home there. Billy found out that Jack Ramsey, manager at Hawthorn Funeral Home in Carthage, had died suddenly of a heart attack, and he called Hawthorn owner Mark Osborne to tell him about Don. We came to Carthage in January of 1972 to visit with him and his wife, Alice Florey Hawthorn Osborne, and one of the dearest relationships of our lives began. These were the nicest, most hospitable people we had ever met. They asked Don to begin work in February, so once again I was finishing out a school year, this time in Jacksonville, while he began work in Carthage. We lived in a tiny house near the funeral home with just a little living room, kitchen, and bathroom, and Don walked to work every day.”
Mark and “Miss Alice,” as well as her son, Neal Hawthorn, Jr., his wife Gloria, and their twin daughters Barbara and Beth, became family to the Lipseys. Mark had been the manager at Hawthorn since 1937, and he and his first wife Louise lived upstairs above the funeral home until her death. “Miss Alice” had been married to Neal Hawthorn, Sr., founder of the business, who had died in 1947. After 21 years of widowhood for her and two for him, the two married in 1968.
“It is impossible to describe the influence this couple had on us and our children,” says Sallie. (Daughter Hillary was born in 1975, and son Stuart in 1980) “Our fathers both died when the children were very young, and the Osbornes became surrogate parents and grandparents to all of us. The kids walked from school every day to the Osborne home near Baker-Koonce. Mark and Don built a ballfield and batting cage behind the house for them, and many days, Miss Alice would also take them with her to the Clabaugh home behind theirs. The Clabaugh home is now the Panola County Chamber of Commerce office. Mrs. Clabaugh was Miss Alice’s sister-in-law, and the home had been built by Mrs. Clabaugh’s parents, S. A. and Lulu Hawthorn. The Clabaughs had a yard with chickens, a goldfish pond, and even a stable where the Hawthorn twins Beth and Barbara had a horse. We called that area (where the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame is now) 'the patch,' and Stuart started mowing it when he was still really young.”
She continues, “I probably didn't buy Hillary any clothes at all for the first several years of her life because Miss Alice enjoyed it so much, getting her new clothes every time she went shopping with her friends. And Mark never missed any ball game that Stuart played in. They were best buddies; Hillary says when people commented to her how mature Stuart seemed for his age, she always said it was because his best friend and constant companion was an 85-year-old man. He was probably the finest man we have ever known. He was very modest, a quiet source of strength, very faithful to his work, very particular about everything, but never wanting to be noticed or to make anything ‘about him.’ He always focused on others, and certainly always on the family walking through the door to make funeral plans. Miss Alice was a remarkable woman, too, but much less quiet and much more feisty than Mark. Her son Neal and his wife Gloria were also wonderful friends who always treated us like family and not employees. When Mark died in 1997, Neal gave Stuart the diamond ring that Mark had worn for many years, and he wears it as his wedding ring.
The Lipseys bought the funeral home in 1975, then sold it in 1977 and moved to Pasadena for Don to work with his father in his pipeline business. They then repurchased it in 1982 and sold it again in 1994. They operated Lipsey Funeral Home on Sabine Street from 1996 to 2005, when they purchased Jimerson Funeral Home, which had been owned by the Jimerson family for many years and been sold to a corporation in Knoxville, Tennessee. It has been Jimerson-Lipsey Funeral Home ever since.
The Lipseys' lives were changed in a flash on February 6, 1979 when Don was involved in an ambulance wreck with Mark Burleson and was thrown out of the vehicle. He had a compound fracture in his right leg, as well as a crushed hip, and his left leg was run over by an 18-wheeler, causing an artery to burst. Also embedded with road dirt, it became badly infected, and medical personnel worked tirelessly to save the leg. He stayed in Schumpert Hospital in Shreveport for five months, undergoing 17 surgeries, but still feeling blessed that his injuries were all to extremities and not to the brain or vital organs. His recovery from the accident took two years.
Hillary and Stuart began working in the family business when they were small children, passing out programs, washing cars, mowing the grass with longtime employee Melvin Johns, and any other jobs assigned them. Don laughs that when Hillary got her learner's permit to drive, she tried to convince everyone that it was important for her to get a “hardship” license earlier than the usual 16 years of age “to help transport flowers for the funeral home.” She graduated from CHS in 1993, from the University of Texas with a degree in Communications in 1997, and from South Texas College of Law in 2001. She worked for a law firm in Houston until 2004, when she joined the staff of Charter Title Company, where she continues to work as an attorney and escrow officer. Hillary is a member of the Junior League of Houston and an active member of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church.
Stuart graduated from CHS in 1999 and the University of Texas in 2003 with a major in business finance and a minor in government. After UT, he started law school and mortuary school at the same time, thinking that he might be able to do both, but he ended up choosing the family business he had been raised in. He married Brooke Dorsey in 2004. They had dated for three years in high school after her employer Minx Hamilton played matchmaker. Brooke is the bookkeeper at the funeral home, in addition to helping with services. They are parents to Olivia, age 10, and Travis, age 7, and their children help at the funeral home just like Hillary and Stuart did.
The Lipseys are all very involved in civic, community, and church activities. Stuart is active in the Emergency Services District, where he has served as president; the Carthage Noon Lions Club, where he has served as president and other officer positions; in Gideons and as a member of the Heartsway Hospice Board and former member of the Panola College Foundation Board; and in many of the ministries of First United Methodist Church, where he is president of the Loyal Sons Sunday School Class. He and Don are both members of the Panola County Masonic Lodge and the Sharon Temple Shrine. Brooke serves on the Panola College Board and has been the long-time director of Vacation Bible School at FUMC, in addition to many other ministries at the church. Sallie was on the CISD Board for 10 years, served as drive chairman for the United Fund, and has been a member of the Carthage Book Club since 1982 (serving as co-chairman of the annual Tour of Homes for 20 years). She and Don have been active in administration and ministries of FUMC since moving to Carthage in 1972.
Valuable lessons learned from the Osbornes still influence all the Lipseys today. Some of them are related to the business, but many are just about life. “They were both so forward-thinking,” says Sallie. “They didn't live in the past, bemoaning modern times and wishing things could be like they used to be. They always looked to the future and were sure that things were going to be good. They enjoyed young people and new things and kept looking ahead all the time. We all need to strive to be more like that!”