Friday, July 4, 2008

Reminiscing on Robert Earl Hughes: Kay Berry Parker

As I suspected, after the release of the book, I was contacted by an individual I wish I had found prior to its publishing. Kay Berry Parker was the great niece of Lillian Hughes and Wesley "Whistle" Dennis, Sr., Robert Earl's care-taker and road manager. She has the unique distinction of being able to say she was babysat by Robert Earl Hughes. The extended family would often gather together and -- possessing several members with musical talent -- play music together in a jam style (...and drink beer, she added).
The children would stay in a different room and were frequently watched by Robert Earl. She was 10 years old when Robert Earl died, but she has fond memories of him. She remembers her relatives playfully teasing him about when he would get married. The reply she most clearly remembers is, "I will when I find a woman that can reach around me." When asked if he he wanted to partake with the other adults in some beer, she remembers him saying, "I ain't going to drink any of that horse pee!"
"I remember Robert as always being happy," said Ms. Parker. " I can never remember a time when he wasn't happy. I was so young that I didn't understand what all the fuss was about him at the time. He was just Robert Earl to us. I remember that whenever he would show at the state fair that we would all get free passes to all the rides. Even then I didn't grasp why all these people wanted to see Uncle Robert...but at that age I was just happy for the tickets."
Just as many do with the likes of JFK and MLK, Ms. Parker can remember exactly what she was doing when she heard that Robert Earl Hughes had died.
"We were driving in Taylorville when they came over the radio and announced that Robert Earl Hughes, the heaviest man in the world, had passed away. I was ten and knew what death was, but had never had anyone close to me die, so I am not sure I fully grasped the situation. As such, my parents did not allow me to attend his funeral, as they were affraid it would be filled with people only there for the freak aspect of the whole thing."

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