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Weekly 150

JT and Robye Lindsey: Remembering the Good Times

Posted 2/20/20

As I prepared my research and personal stories provided by the Lindseys, their friends and former employees, I felt it was not my place to rework their stories as cold facts. Instead, I decided to let the stories stand by themselves this week as a testament to the kindness and generosity of JT and Robye.

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Weekly 150

JT and Robye Lindsey: Remembering the Good Times

Posted

As a professionally trained historian, I was taught two important components of research, remain unbiased and never publish an assumption. I was reminded of the latter last week when I made and published the assumption of JT Lindsey’s proper name. It also provided a lesson in humility. Thank you, Keith, for the lesson and for sharing your dad’s story.

From Keith Lindsey, “Pop was not James or John or anything. Just JT. That name drove the military folks nuts. ‘Son, you don’t have a name?’ So they put periods and quotations around the J and the T on his paperwork.”

As I prepared my research and personal stories provided by the Lindseys, their friends and former employees, I felt it was not my place to rework their stories as cold facts. Instead, I decided to let the stories stand by themselves this week as a testament to the kindness and generosity of JT and Robye.

Geneva (Gilliam) Johnson

“If everyone had a heart as large as JT Lindsey’s, what a beautiful world we would have. I worked for JT and Robye during my senior year in high school and my college years (1966-1970). They adjusted my work schedule around my school schedule.

“I remember how much fun JT was, and I recall how much he cared for our patrons. He never hesitated to extend help for someone in need. Many times, he would fill a prescription and allow the patient to post-sign a check, often knowing that he would never see the money for the medication.

“An example of his compassion and generosity: I recall one Mother’s Day afternoon when a lady came into the store and told JT that she didn’t have any money to purchase her mother a gift. JT instructed me to go over to the cosmetic counter and pick out a nice bath set of cologne and bath powder and to wrap it up with a nice hand-made bow. He didn’t have me to make a charge card for the lady, and I am pretty certain that she never paid a cent for her mother’s gift.

“We knew the lady’s mother, and JT understood that the hard-working lady had probably never gotten a nicer gift than that gift set. He wanted her to be honored on that Mother’s Day because she deserved to be honored--even if he had to be the one to provide the gift.

“The regulars who patronized Lindsey’s Rexall and the employees who worked there (like Ophie Chandler, Sue Jackson, Irene Beasley, Vonnell Ellis, etc.) loved JT Lindsey. He was always pulling pranks and joking around with individuals who loved his antics which were never mean-spirited. He had a rare gift and could offer friends encouraging words when needed just as easily as he could joke around with friends.

“I never knew him to be anything but kind and years later, I told him that he and Robye were part of the village of my youth. On Christmas Eve, 1970 when Bill and I became engaged, the first people to whom we sought to show the ring were JT and Robye. We knew that they were at Dean Raymond Burrough’s house; therefore, that was our first stop.

“The last visit we had with him, I received one of his well-known bear hugs that left me knowing that I had been hugged. I treasure that hug in my heart along with the memory of one of McKenzie’s finest.”

Ken Gregg

“Thanks to a recommendation from my social studies teacher, Mrs. Paschal, I started work at was then called Lindsey’s Cannon Rexall Drugs in the summer of 1963 at the age of 12. The store was located then on Broadway Street. My official job title was ‘stock boy,’ but under the guidance of Dodi Ridley, Nell Brush, ‘Hot Shot’ Lewis, and of course, JT Lindsey, I learned to do much more.

“JT and James Williams, the owner of the Ben Franklin store next door, had an ongoing friendly rivalry and I can remember back-to-school supplies price wars between them where each would markdown items such as notebook paper a penny lower than the other and advertise the prices in the windows.

“In February of 1965, JT and Robye decided to relocate the store to what was the U-Tote-Em grocery store on Cedar Street, two doors down from the Park Theatre. For the new store, they would drop ‘Cannon’, making it ‘Lindsey’s Rexall Drugs’

“Since I was the stock boy, I was heavily involved with moving all of the stock from the old store to the new store. The store never closed during the moving process. We had three rolling shopping carts, and for several days, we loaded those three carts with stock from the shelves, pushed the carts down the sidewalk to the new store, then unloaded them, filling the new shelves.

“The store had a soda fountain, which quickly became the meeting place for many in McKenzie. A lady (whose name I cannot recall) was the daytime soda jerk and Larry Sherwood, then Byron Forrester and John Anderson worked the fountain after school and on weekends. I was a mostly unwilling substitute. The soda fountain was especially busy just before movie time’ at the Park Theatre.

“The store was open until 7 p.m. weeknights, 9 p.m. on Saturdays, and 1-5 p.m. on Sundays and we were quite busy. Some nights JT would tell me to go turn some of the lights off to encourage people to leave.

“The upstairs of the store had a separate outside entrance and was once a roller skating rink. In the ‘60s, however, it was rented out to the Catholic Church. There was apparently a large population of Catholics among Bethel students. The old hardwood skating rink floor was still in place and I can remember hearing thunderous footsteps from above whenever there was a service during store hours.

“JT once employed a ‘robot man’ for a day who held up advertising signs in the front window of the store. One of the signs said, ‘Make me smile and I will pay you $50.’ He had a switch he pressed with his foot which made a grinding noise and he would move in a jerking motion, emulating a robot.

“In September when Bethel College started their new year, many of the downtown stores had ‘Welcome Bethel Faculty and Students’ signs painted on their windows. Bethel students and faculty were frequent customers at the drug store and soda fountain. For some reason, many of the students were from New Jersey and McKenzie had the nickname of ‘Jersey South.’

“Fridays were pay-day for most of the local factories (Gaines, Brown Shoe, the Pajama Factory) and the drug store always had extra cash-on-hand and a special register setup in hopes that lots of workers would come in to cash their paycheck and browse around the store a bit.

“Robye was a very good cook and always brought to the store a plate lunch for JT, covered in foil. It always looked and smelled so good. The Lindseys always hosted a country ham Christmas Dinner in their home for all store employees, and I always looked forward to it.

“JT drove an old green ‘49 or ‘50 Chevrolet he called Nellie. Nellie’s brakes were not so good and he would shout ‘Whoa Nellie!’ when coming to a stop in his parking place behind the store.

“JT had a padded bench made for customers to sit on near the pharmacy. He always invited customers to take a seat on the ‘mourner’s bench’ while he filled their prescriptions.

“In 1968, I graduated from McKenzie High and headed to college at UTM. I returned to work for an occasional weekend for the first year, giving the regulars a break. Eventually, my visits became less frequent and finally stopped, leaving me with lots of memories of workdays at Lindsey’s Rexall.”

Reverend William Corbin

“I can never repay the debt that I owe to JT and Robye Lindsey for all they did for me for many years. I’ll try to share at least part of the reason I write that.

“I was a student at McKenzie Junior High School when I realized that I could not rely on my hard-working father’s salary as the railroad station agent to provide everything I needed to meet my goals in life. So, I quit the football team and started looking for part-time work.

“JT had just bought Cannon Rexall Drug Store and I hoped he might be willing to hire me. I went to work at the drug store after school and on Saturday making 50 cents an hour. That doesn’t sound like much money these days but I paid 12 cents at the Park Theatre for the Saturday afternoon double feature. That included newsreels, serials, cartoons, and coming attractions. Five cents each bought a soda and a box of Milk Duds. An entire afternoon’s entertainment for 22 cents.

“At Cannon’s, JT assigned me to dust the shelves. In those days, ‘mega-packaging’ didn’t exist. A bottle of 100 saccharin tablets was tiny. It took me months to dust all the shelves. It wasn’t until later that I realized the reason for that task. JT was investing time and money in a young boy by teaching him to follow directions, keep at a task, and learn the stock.

“When JT bought the drug store, it was ranked at the very bottom of sales among Rexall stores in Tennessee. After all these years, I don’t remember the exact number, but I believe it was about 400th.

“JT believed he could turn a struggling store into a shining star and he did. He risked everything by renovating a much larger building on the other side of the McKenzie square. The new store was big, bright, and exciting. Lindsey’s Rexall Drugs had everything that a modern store has including a soda fountain. Customers flocked to the store. Special times like the Rexall 1 cent sale and Christmas made all us employees work very hard but we loved it.

“The truth is that it wasn’t a new facility that propelled Lindsey’s Rexall Drugs to become one of the top five stores in the state. It was a wonderful man named JT Lindsey. In my almost 75 years, I have never met a more outgoing humanitarian than JT.

“JT truly cared about the people of McKenzie and the surrounding area. Of course, he had to make a profit to support his family and pay his employees. But that was secondary to his love of his fellow citizens. He and Robye forgave the debts of many hundreds of people who could not pay for their prescriptions.

“I cherish my relationship with JT and Robye Lindsey. There has never been a better couple in McKenzie. Sadly, I had to leave my job at the drugstore when I started work on my Master of Divinity at Memphis Theological Seminary in 1967. May God’s love always shine down on them.”

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