note: This column is Gary Mitchell’s eulogy that he gave at
funeral earlier this month of his fellow musician, Roy Parsons, a
genuine Ocracoker and an icon on the island.)
Parsons was born on Aug. 17, 1921, one of James and Mary Elizabeth
Parsons’ 12 children. He is survived by his wife of 57 years,
Elizabeth; daughter Edna Mae and son-in-law Howard Edman of Columbia,
S.C.; sons Roger Lee and Leonard Steve, five grandchildren -- Beverly,
Matthew, Amanda, Christian and Leslie-- and one great-grandchild. He
was preceded in death by a son, James Leroy.
Roy loved his home of Ocracoke, and he
ready to tell a story about growing up here. He was a curious child,
was always into something, always trying something new, always ready
for a new adventure.
A couple of his boyhood pals told me that Roy once took them
hunting over at Mayo’s Hill, but he didn’t have any
for the old cobbled-together gun, so Roy suggested they go
“borrow” some eggs from Jake Alligood’s
and sell them to Mace Fulcher at the Community Store to raise some
money. They thought that sounded like a real good idea, so they snuck
over to the pen. Roy carefully lifted the hens’ back sides
the boys removed the eggs, then went over and sold them to Mr. Mace for
2 cents each, which gave them just enough money for two shotgun shells.
When they got back to Mayo’s Hill a little while later, a
of brants flew by, and Roy fired the old gun, but it blew up and
covered his face with black powder. Maybe he learned his lesson -- but
maybe not, because he did kill two brants with that one shot.
His music career started at 14 with a Sears & Roebuck guitar he
ordered, and I’m told his broadcast career began by singing
the stove flue at “Clemmie’s Ice Cream
the sound coming out the top of the chimney. (I guess he got a black
face there too.) Later on, with advances in his technological prowess,
he actually built his own radio station
at his home. Roy said that cars would be lined up in his driveway and
down the street out front, just to receive his broadcast.
Like many of the young men on Ocracoke
in the 1930s
and ‘40s, Roy traveled up north looking for work and
He always seemed to find adventure! On his first day in New York City,
still just a teen-ager, Roy found a room to rent in a boarding house
and paid the landlady $2. He left his clothes, shaving stuff, and civil
service papers in the room and told the landlady he was going out to
eat, and she said the door would be open when he returned.
“I never did find
again” Roy said. He even got help from the police, but still
luck. “All the houses looked the same, and they’re
painted the same color. Woulda taken me five weeks to knock on all
those doors and ask, ‘Do I live here?’”
Somehow he came out of that on his feet,
musicians, and traveled all over the northeast and mid-Atlantic playing
music and finding new adventures, including a stint with “The
Barney & Bailey Circus” (as he called it) at Madison
In between music gigs he worked on
Philadelphia, and eventually returned to Ocracoke to work for the
legendary Sam Jones at the Castle, and for Col. Egan at the Berkeley
Center. He cooked, as well as taking care of maintenance and repairs on
these two historic Ocracoke landmarks. About this time Roy fell for his
lifelong companion, Elizabeth, at Williams Bros. store where she
worked. I was told by Della that he came in “looking like
Gable in that blue suit. Elizabeth handed him that hot-dog, their hands
touched, and it was true love.”
Roy built them a home from
material salvaged from the old Navy base, and they have lived and
worked there ever since their marriage in 1950.
As a young father, Roy enjoyed taking
out fishing and clamming at Teach’s Hole, and in later years
he’d occasionally sneak over to Roger Lee’s to
movies and drink Gatorade.
Roy wasn’t born with much,
much education, but he certainly made the most of what he had. He was a
self-taught man, and an excellent carpenter and craftsman, auto
mechanic, cook, entertainer, husband and father. He was never afraid to
learn something new, even taking up the saxophone at the age of 80. He
also worked as a night watchman at the Cedar Island Ferry terminal into
his 80s. My friend and mandolin player Gerald Hampton wrote an
instrumental song in remembrance of one of those nights a few years
There was a thick fog, and the Cedar Island Ferry was not
to safely pass through the channel out at the Lehigh, so the captain
meandered northwards a few miles up on the back side of the island.
Late in the evening, Jerry Gaskill, who was then head of the NC Ferry
Division, called the Ocracoke Terminal to find out what was going on.
Roy, being the only one on duty at the time, responded, “I
the captain is feeding the ponies.” Gerald’s song
entitled “Feeding the Ponies.”
Roy and I got to know each other through our love of music. He grew up
listening to Jimmy Rogers, Gene Autry, and other early country and
cowboy singers. He was always the best-dressed man at our shows in a
beautiful cowboy shirt, boots, string tie, and fancy belt buckle. We
worked together for over 10 years performing in Ocrafolk Opry shows,
both here on the island and on the mainland, including a show at
historic Thalian Hall in Wilmington. Audiences loved Roy everywhere he
He was a masterful yodeler, he knew exactly how to
most out of a story, and his comic timing was perfect. He always
enjoyed meeting and talking with the audience after a show, and they
loved it too.
A couple of years ago a group of our
decided to take Roy on a trip to Nashville and the “Grand Ole
Opry.” I asked him if he’d ever flown before, and
“Oh yeah, I flew with Bill Cochran from Hatteras to Ocracoke
time. Bill told his wife to ‘go get that Coleman can of gas
the shed,’ and he poured it into the top of the wing of that
Piper Cub and said, ‘That oughta be enough,’ and we
off. Bill said the tide was high and there weren’t much beach
land on, so I’d have to jump out, so as soon as the wheels
touched down I threw out my bag and jumped out after
I’ve flown before”.
When we got to the Grand Ole Opry, we
backstage tour with Opry legend George Hamilton IV, and Roy was also
recognized from the Opry stage that night for his contribution to the
music of eastern North Carolina. It was a wonderful trip, and a very
special time for all of us.
When we were recording the first
Music Sampler” album, Roy stopped suddenly and said
know, Gary, music is good!” I immediately knew that that was
perfect intro for our very first recording of the musicians of
Ocracoke. Roy was featured on several other recordings, including his
“Songs and Tales of Ocracoke Island.”
He once said, “You gotta grab
a hold of life
if you want life to hold on to you.” Roy did that. He kept on
singing, entertaining folks, and working on his beautiful boat models
right up until the end.
Everyone I’ve talked with
about Roy says the same things,
“He was full of love.” “He was a good
“He loved to make people smile.” “He made
good to be with him.” And one of the most common,
never said a bad word about anyone.”
Roy was one of the best examples of
Jesus’ teachings of anyone I’ve ever met.
“Love your neighbor as
That was Roy.
“Judge not lest ye be
Roy radiated love to everyone he came
with, and what better thing could you say about any person’s
I’m extremely privileged to
have known him.
Video courtesy of:
Neal Hutcheson - The North Carolina Language and Life Project