When visiting an attorney, legal business comes to mind.
One might imagine piles of paperwork, power suits, long hours and serious meetings with legal jargon. In fact, it would be easy to understand why an attorney would want to take many vacations to get away from all the stress, if they are even able to unplug from their business life. Attorney Thomas Wilkinson has a different outlook than would be expected for an attorney.
“I can’t wait to go to work every day, because the people I meet are interesting,” he explained.
When asked about his firm, Tom began sharing a series of stories about all the interesting people he has met in Marianna. He shared a story about Mrs. Mae Wilson who built a home in her 80s. According to Tom, Mrs. Mae’s sister was Elizabeth McKinnon Anderson, whose husband was Mr. George Everett Anderson. Mr. Anderson worked for the State Department and had been at The Hague during the Bolshevik Revolution. Despite Mrs. Mae’s nieces and nephews’ attempts to stop her construction project, she built the home and placed a sign in the window that said “Suits Me.” People traveling from Jacksonville west drove by this reference point daily.
When Tom married, Mrs. Mae had already passed away. Her husband sold the home to Tom and his wife, Lou, with all the furnishings. The happily married couple wanted to keep the sign but change it to “Suits Us,” but much to their dismay, Mr. Wilson had destroyed the sign. The cute home survived on Highway 90 until Hurricane Michael came through and an oak tree fell on the home that had become a business office in later years. You might recognize this building as the location of Tru Care Labs and Hermann Insurance Agency.
Tom’s story continued with him explaining that Mrs. Mae had an old Packard and a 1940s hairstyle with a flower. At that time, Lafayette Street was a two-lane road and from time to time there would be a fender bender. Mrs. Mae’s driving might not have been the best, because one day she drove her Packard under a Greyhound Bus and survived.
Mrs. Anderson asked Tom to pick up her sister, Mrs. Mae, so they could enjoy a nice dinner together. When he arrived, Tom heard all kinds of noises coming from a back room. Mrs. Mae was getting ready for the night out, while Tom was discovering that Mrs. Mae was making Scuppernong wine.
According to Tom, “Suits Me” was an iconic house that everyone who passed and all in the community knew. “Mrs. Mae was a wonderful person,” Tom recalled.
As one story continued another fell from Tom’s mouth, “Mrs. Willie was a piano teacher who lived on Lafayette Street next to where Ark Animal Hospital is now.” According to Tom, Mrs. Willie’s son bought her a large car for her safety. Mrs. Willie’s car was rear-ended, so they took her to Ark Animal Hospital. “When she woke up, she said, ‘which paw?’” Tom shared with a chuckle.
On another occasion, Halloween in fact, a man ran a red light and hit Mrs. Willie. The man ran across the street to see if Mrs. Willie was okay, and Tom shared, “Mrs. Willie said, ‘You almost missed Halloween.’”
At the corner of Lafayette and Wynn Street, Mrs. Willie’s friend ran a farmer’s market/trading post on Thursdays. When he came to the corner and slammed on breaks, pigs ran out everywhere. “Mrs. Willie said, ‘That was the noisiest wreck I’ve ever heard,’” Tom shared.
“The Schultz family had a farm east of Marianna on Highway 90, but they also had animals in town,” Tom continued. The Schultz family lived on Daniels Street and Jim’s Steak House was newly constructed at that time. According to Tom, Bathsheba, the Schultz’s camel, escaped and showed up near Jim’s Steak House. “The Policeman at the scene said ‘I’ve met the camel and I’m looking for Mary and Joseph,’” Tom explained. “They kept a lion at their home too,” he continued. “One day the neighbor was approached by the lion,” Tom recalled, “and he jumped in his car and honked the horn.” “These were wonderful people,” Tom said with a smile.
Hearing Tom’s stories was captivating and he continued, “There were two attorneys in town that were elderly when I arrived: Bob and Paul.” Paul Carter was a large man, who had passed away and needed to be buried. According to Tom, John Carter, not related to Paul, said, “It looks like it’s going to be a tight squeeze,” referring to the space between the coffin and the vault. “Bob said, ‘listen, he’s been in tighter spots than that before,’” shared Tom.
Tom explained that within this small town, many intelligent people have lived, who went on to achieve great things. According to Tom, Joe Butler invented the iron dome, which President Reagan knew could destroy missiles when he visited Iceland. L. Neel Smith, who graduated from Marianna High School, became the world authority on Nathaniel Hawthorne. Malcolm Gillis, who later became president of Rice University, lived here. Moss Mabry became a famous costume designer to the stars, one of which was Grace Kelly. The famous actor David Hart, who starred in the movies “Silver Bullet” (1985) and “The Island” (1980) and in the series “In the Heat of the Night” was from Marianna. There were many more discussed by Tom, including Vann Smith, Larry Alford and Rhett Turner, all living within a few blocks of one another.
Tom came to Marianna in 1960 to work for the president pro tempore of the Florida Senate, John Samuel Rawls. According to Tom, Rawls was in the turpentine business. He was certified to collect pine resin and sold it by barrel. Tom has lived here nearly 60 years with his wife Lou Daffin Wilkinson and their cat, Talker. “The people I’ve met here have been interesting,” Tom continued.
If you would like an attorney with a story or two and a great love for the people of Marianna, Tom is someone you should visit. Tom Wilkinson’s law office is located at 2881 Jefferson Street in Marianna. Visit Tom Monday through Friday 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. To learn more, call Tom at 850-482-4000, the phone number he has had since 1960.
What a wonderful business to have in Marianna! Visit the City of Marianna’s website at http://www.mariannafl.city/335/New-Businesses-and-Other-Community-News to learn more about businesses and services available in Marianna.
Kay Dennis, MBA, MPA, A.I.C.P., is the director of Municipal Development for the City of Marianna.