IVY LEON PURVIS 1930 — 2017
McKENZIE — Ivy Leon Purvis, 86, of McKenzie, Tenn. died Friday, April 14, 2017 at McKenzie Healthcare after a long illness. Funeral services were Tuesday, April 18 at Gleason Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Gleason, Tennessee. Burial followed in the church cemetery.
Purvis was a lifelong grocer, starting his career in Trezevant and then moving to McKenzie to work with Boyd Blackburn, Jr. at Junior’s J& J Supermarket, where he was store manager until the store sold. He completed his career at the successor grocery company, E.W. James and Sons Supermarket in McKenzie.
Purvis was the leader of the Happy Five Quartet that sang gospel music throughout a multistate region.
He leaves: his wife, Carolyn Blackburn Purvis of McKenzie; a son, Keith (Vickie) Purvis of Germantown, Tenn.; step-son, Rick (Melissa) Hutton of Missouri; two step-daughters, Kim (Bill) Lehman of St. Claire, Missouri, and Shari Hutton and husband, Mike Furois of Arizona; four grandchildren, Austin (Allison) Purvis, Lindsey Purvis, Monica Terry, Sheena Tegethoff; and two step-grandchildren, Madison Hutton and Blake Hutton.
He was preceded in death by his first wife, Wanda Gay Castleman Purvis, four brothers, Billy, Jimmy, Glynn, and Lloyd, sisters, Imogene Woodall, and Mildred Smith, and one step-grandson, Branon Sneed.
Brummitt-McKenzie Funeral Home had charge of arrangements. 731-352-4848. The following is an edited featured story published in 2004 in The McKenzie Banner and written by Deborah Turner.
Ivy Leon Purvis was born October 16, 1930 to sharecroppers Barnie and Susie Brown Purvis in a log cabin near Trezevant, on a farm called the “Jim Green place.” Leon was the fourth child in the family that would eventually boast seven children: two girls and five boys.
Leon and Glynn were the only Purvis children still in school when, in 1941, the family moved to the Cobb place, about two miles east of the Hollyleaf community. Loyd was in Europe in the Army; Mildred was married and her husband Bill Smith was fighting the Japanese in the Pacific; Billy Joe had died at 17 months old with colitis in 1938; Imogene quit school when she was 13; and the youngest, Jimmy Lee, born in 1941, was just a baby.
Leon graduated from Trezevant High School in May 1948 and immediately went to work in a grocery store for Curtis and Marg Tate called H and T Grocery, making $12.50 per week. A couple of years later, Roy Watkins asked if he would like to cut meat for him in a larger store just down the street.
When he wasn't busy in the butcher shop, he helped bag beans and other grocery items to load on John Bunt Adams' “Doodle Wagon,” a rolling grocery store mounted on a wagon pulled by two big horses, through different routes, five days a week. Later, a bob truck was able to make the runs faster.
A few years later, Glynn King and Ben Everett, owners of the U-Tote-Em grocery chain and KECO Milling Company, bought the Watkins' store and retained Leon as their butcher. After several months, he became the chain's youngest manager at the age of 24, a position he held about ten years.
Leon continued living on the family's 65-acre farm until, in 1954, he married Wanda Gay Castleman of Gleason, and moved to Trezevant. The couple had one child, Leon Keith, born in 1957, and also raised Leon's niece, Donna, from the age of three.
Between the years of 1947 and 1950, Leon and several of his friends formed a country music band with Leon singing, Hilliard Mann on mandolin, J.L. Rodgers on steel guitar, and Millie Frances Burpe on rhythm guitar.
Leon and Hilliard later formed a gospel quartet called the “Rhythmaires” with Leon singing first tenor, Fred Gowan singing tenor and sometimes lead, Richard Welch singing lead and other parts, and Mann singing bass. Fred's wife, Patricia, was a pianist.
“We had a good time singing at homecomings, revivals, and community events and did a Sunday morning radio broadcast over McKenzie's WHDM radio station for two or three years, with the studio being under the old McKenzie Hotel (now where McKenzie Banking Company is) in a small section of the basement,” Leon says. “After this group, I filled in for other members of the McKenzie Quartet while some were out due to illness. One long period was when Gillman Presson was out with a throat problem.”
Leon and Gay formed the Happy Five Quartet. Soon, the quartet was offered a 45-minute spot on WHDM radio station Sunday mornings from 7:15 until 8 a.m., a tradition that continued from 1960 until 1995, nearly 35 years. The group was made up of Leon, tenor; Gay, alto; Lewis Garner, bass; and Donna Bates, lead or soprano. Some of the group's pianists over the years were Nancy Hicks, Linda Lawrence, Kay Joyner and Shirley Wade.
“During those 35 years, we also were usually found singing somewhere in West Tennessee, Kentucky and Arkansas,” Leon relates fondly. “We would usually travel in two or three cars; we never thought we could afford a bus.
Just when his days seemed most dim after losing Gay unexpectedly on January 11, 1994, Leon was jolted into renewed awareness by a customer at E.W. James Grocery Store in McKenzie where he was manager in 1994.
“Carolyn said she was just going to forget about you, if she could,” Montez Pratt, Carolyn's sister, admonished him.
He remembered having received a sympathy card from his friend of many years ago. He had received an Easter card from her in April as well: a beautiful sentiment likening Christ's resurrection with his own loss.
He'd placed the sympathy card in a box along with “two or three other hundred” and, still in shock after his wife's death, had set the Easter card aside as well after noting its inscription: “I live alone also. If you would like to call me sometime, or write, I would like to hear from you.”
“Best I can remember she said call if you want to,” Leon advised Montez in the store. “I reckon I didn't want to at the time, but if she feels that way about it, I will.”