Obituaries From The Past

Dr. Robert Lee Burks, one of the early doctors in Livingston and Overton County.

  I continue to be amazed by the amount of information contained in some old newspaper articles that are written as obituaries, but are written so well, the person's life is pretty much summarized. One I ran across recently tells about the passing on one of Livingston's highly respected doctors by the name of Dr. R.L. Burks. On the front page of the Livingston
Enterprise dated December 9, 1925, it says this:

"The Reaper is cutting them down one by one. On December 3, 1925, Livingston lost one of its noblest and greatest citizens. Dr. Burks was born in Bedford County, Tennessee, in 1848. His father died when he was a youth and his rise in life to the forefront has been through his own energy and ambition. He was a soldier in the Confederacy and no one in the Grey was ever more courageous and loyal to the "Lost Cause.


"After the war he married Miss Eliza Jakes and moved the State of Texas
where he practiced medicine but soon returned to Tennessee and to Overton
County, where he has lived for more than forty years. No more progressive
spirit ever come to this section of the state.

"He was always at the front in every public move, the building of the
railroad, educational advancement, Temperance cause in the earlier days,
good roads, civil and municipal progress. His contributions to public
enterprise were always more than his financial ability would justify and a
personal sacrifice. A man of decided convictions, espousing that which he
believed to be right and for the public good. An orator of no mean
distinction. No man has made a greater impress upon the community in this
time. Always active until service and age said stop and rest awhile,
until his star should rise again! The entire community suffers in the
passing of such a citizen.

"He was survived by a wife, Eliza Burks, a daughter, Mrs. Ida Breeding,
wife of Dr. W.M. Breeding of this city, county physician, tow sons, Ray
Burks in business in Knoxville, and Willis Burks, of Nashville, Tenn. His
body was laid to rest amid friends and flowers in the Daugherty cemetery
on the Daugherty farm, one of the properties he had greatly improved in
Livingston. This scythe of time is ever mowing. In nature there is one
inexorable law, "Back to dust," is written on every life. Under it no one
has the advantage of another. It is a just law. Under it, high or low,
rich or poor, judge and criminal, have the same verdict. Not so under
human law. But no one who is fit to live should fear to die. The loss is
not to the dead, but to the living. One writer has said: "It is
impossible that anything so natural, so necessary, and so universal as
death should ever have been designed by providence as an evil to mankind."

At the passing of Mrs. Eliza Burks, her obituary read, in part, as follows:

"Mrs. Eliza Burks, age 94, widow of the late Dr. R.L. Burks, died in the
Lady Ann Hospital in Livingston on Saturday morning, November 14, at 12:15
o'clock. She was a native of Bedford County, Tennessee, and came to
Livingston many years ago. Her husband died about twenty-five years ago.
She was member of the Church of Christ. Mrs. Burks was very active,
enjoyed going to church and visiting with friends until two weeks prior to
her death when she received a fall, suffering a broken hip. Funeral
services were conducted at the Livingston Church of Christ on Sunday
afternoon at 2 o'clock by the minister, Frank Timmerman, and the Rev.
Ewing S. Weakley, pastor of the Livingston Methodist Church. Burial was in
the family cemetery in Livingston.

On May 23, 1958, the obituary for the son of Dr. and Mrs. Burks, Colonel
James Willis Burks appeared in a Livingston newspaper. It reads:

"News has been received here of the death of Colonel James Willis Burks, a
retired colonel in the U.S. Army who died on May 10, 1958, in a hospital
in New Orleans, Louisiana. Col. Burks was a native of Livingston, a son of
the late Dr. and Mrs. R.L. Burks, and a brother to the late Mrs. Ida
Burks Breeding. He was a Spanish-American war veteran and organized a
national guard unit in Livingston just before World War I. During World
War I, he organized Company M in Livingston and left with the soldiers in
this company for service. He formerly operated Burks Drug Company in
Livingston. He had lived in New Orleans for the past few years.

"Surviving are his wife, Mrs. Linnie Adkins Burks; one daughter, Miss Mary
Frances Burks; one son, Dr. James Willis Burks, Jr., of New Orleans, one
brother, Ray Burks of Knoxville, two grandchildren and several nieces and
nephews. Interment was in the Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

Between the years 1925 and 1958, the method of reporting deaths changed.
The many details about the person who passed were no longer included. I
much prefer the 1920's method. Even today, we can get an idea how the life
the deceased person lived than many years ago.  I just hope that maybe at
some point in my searching out these old obituaries I will run across one
that gives all the details of someone who was considered a scoundrel or,
for a better description, my friend and former classmate Linda Roberts
Whitfield liked to say, "a ner-do-well."  I think learning about all the
flaws someone had would probably be just as interesting as knowing all the
fine outstanding qualities some of the more respected citizens were known
to have.  With that goal in mind, I will continue my search.