By CAROL FERGUSON
Tubby Adkisson, one of Greenville’s most beloved citizens, will be remembered in a memorial service at 1 p.m. today in Kavanaugh United Methodist Church.
She was born Nita Lee Moore, but friends have called her by her nickname since she was 12 years old. She was never a large woman, and in a 2011 interview she explained how she acquired the name Tubby.
“I used to say I was the only girl in the first grade who wore a girdle, but it wasn’t true,” she said. “Back then everyone had to have nicknames. I decided I wanted to be called Bunny, but no one went along with that. A boy I liked said if I had to have a nickname, he’d call me Tubby, and I thought that was neat. He left me for a cross-eyed girl he later married — cross-eyed as a goose,” she added laughing.
Tubby’s wry sense of humor is one of the many things her friends appreciated. She was without a doubt a bit of a ham, and she enlivened Greenville Follies productions with her appearances as a harem girl and a hippie flower girl, among other roles. She enjoyed “making a perfect ass of myself,” as she described it, and it’s been said that many Follies tickets were sold to people who were curious to see just what Tubby would come up with that year.
All of her friends had a favorite “Tubby story.” There’s the one about the shopping trip to a Dallas department store when she felt what she described as a strange “scratching sensation” on her leg. She told the sales woman about her problem, and the two of them went behind the counter to investigate. Tubby discovered she had a piece of popcorn inside her panty hose. Figure that one out — she said she never could.
Underneath this lighthearted personality, however, was a deep sense of compassion for others. She was instrumental in forming, organizing and raising funds for the Hunt County Opportunity Center, which later expanded into a much larger program for mental health/mental retardation. Commenting on her work in the area of mental retardation, she once said, “It’s a selfish angle I suppose. I love their honesty. You never have to wonder where you stand with them.”
Melva Geyer, now in marketing and public relations with Hunt Regional Healthcare, recalls meeting Tubby shortly after coming to Greenville. “She was still very active in the Hunt County Opportunity Center and had invited me (as a Herald-Banner reporter) to Lake Bonham for an outing for the children of the Center. A popular attraction was the canoeing on the lake, so, of course, we had to give it a try. I had gotten myself settled in the canoe and gave Tubby a hand stepping down. She lost her balance, and we very nearly turned over in the water. We’ve had many laughs over the years about my near-baptism by Tubby. Fortunately this young reporter became a friend. I’m going to miss that one-syllable laugh and the joy she brought to everyone who knew her. What a class act.”
Tubby once said she came from a family where volunteering was the norm. “As a child I didn’t know people didn’t volunteer,” she explained. “You’re really a product of your family.”
During World War II she worked as a nurse’s aide in addition to her job with the U.S. Engineers in Dallas and later in Washington, D.C. “They were just crying for people. We took 120 hours of training ... we couldn’t give shots, but we could help out,” she said.
Settling in Greenville after her 1948 marriage to Jay Adkisson, Tubby and Jay reared two sons and together they operated Adkisson’s Florist. “I became involved in the usual ‘mother’ things — PTA, Cub Scouts, den mother, along with church activities and teaching piano in her home for 6- and 7-year olds for a time,” she recalled. In later years she became a strong supporter of Cancer Survivors’ Walk at Greenville’s Relay for Life, which became a huge success through her leadership abilities. She was also active in the Chamber of Commerce, YMCA and The Salvation Army
The Greenville community recognized her with its 1969 Worthy Citizen Award, and in 1971 she received the Outstanding State Volunteer of the Year Award from the Texas Association for Retarded Citizens.
James Cole, who is now retired and living in Fredericksburg, recalls Tubby’s many kindnesses: “I had known Tubby and her family for several years as members of Kavanaugh Methodist Church. Since I was a recent transplant to Greenville, I did not have a wide list of friends in Greenville, so when I dropped out of classes at UT Austin in the spring of 1960 in order to seek the vacant House of Representatives seat for Hunt County, everyone thought I was crazy, as a newcomer. My campaign had limited funds, so Tubby was a lifesaver by allowing a group of my friends to use the Adkisson Florist hothouse for hand-painting campaign signs, a major boost in my campaign.
“Tubby was a leader in Texas Association for Retarded Children,” Cole continued. “Being a psychology major, I worked closely with her on legislation for the association. As a result of the passage of the legislation, I was to be awarded a certificate at the annual TARC Convention. Tubby gave me a mushy but heartfelt introduction, but said she had her own presentation to make first. (A word of background is necessary. The Adkissons were rabid Aggie fans, and since the ‘60s was the era of Longhorn supremacy, I would mail a sympathy card to Tubby and her family after each Longhorn victory over the Aggies.)
“As a result of the sympathy cards and the Aggies finally beating the Longhorns, Tubby’s personal presentation to me was a large funeral wreath made of wilted flowers and a banner with the football game score. She told the crowd that she had waited for several years for an opportunity to return the favor to me for the cards.
“Tubby was concerned for the wellbeing of so many people in Greenville, and I was lucky to be one of those people who received her support,” Cole said. “When the doctors gave me only five years to live because of cancer, I was in shock and feeling depressed; then the phone started ringing. It was Greenville friends whom I had not seen for at least 20 years calling to offer their support. Tubby had gotten on the phone and urged many to call. She also expressed joy each time I got good results from the tests for the last six years. She will be missed, but her good deeds will live long after her.”
Tubby’s own life was by no means the proverbial bed of roses. She survived cancer, then a broken hip, the death of her husband, and a serious automobile accident in 2011 that landed her in the hospital and a rehab center for a time.
She was not one to become a recluse or indulge in any self-pity, however. At civic events and social gatherings around town — even up to the week before her death — there was Tubby, leaning a little on her walker, but wearing the same smile and chuckling over some humorous or peculiar bit of news.
She was unique.