Title: Interview with Mercer Moorman Parrish
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/MH00001734/00001
 Material Information
Title: Interview with Mercer Moorman Parrish
Physical Description: Book
Language: English
Creator: Cofrin, Mary Ann ( Interviewer )
Publisher: Matheson Historical Museum
Place of Publication: Gainesville, Fla.
Publication Date: 1994
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: MH00001734
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: Alachua County Historic Trust: Matheson Museum, Inc.
Holding Location: Alachua County Historic Trust: Matheson Museum, Inc.
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.


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Interview with M.M. Parrish
April 28, 1994

Cofrin: We are doing this interview at 1405 N.W. 13th Street, Gainesville, Florida, on April
28, 1994. Would you please state your name, full name, and birth date for the tape,

Parrish: My name is M.M. Parrish. My birth date is December 31, 1915.

Cofrin: Very good. Where were you born?

Parrish: Gainesville, Florida.

Cofrin: And tell me about your parents and your grandparents.

Parrish: Dad moved here in 1911. He had married Motherjust before then, and shortly after
he came, about 1912, his mother and father, my grandparents, moved to Gainesville.

Cofrin: And what were their names?

Parrish: James M. Parrish and Jessie Moorman Parrish.

Cofrin: They were your grandparents.

Parrish: Yes, that's correct.

Cofrin: And your parents' names?

Parrish: Elma P. Parrish and Mercer Moorman Parrish.

Cofrin: How did they happen to come to Gainesville?

Parrish: Dad was in charge of Georgia and Florida for the sales of life insurance and was
working over the two states. He actually was a pretty good baseball pitcher and,
back in those days every town had its own baseball team. He worked small towns
and offered to pitch for the teams, where he was working, almost every Sunday. And
if he won he would stay and sell insurance the next week, and if he didn't, well, then
he'd move on to the next town. He met Mother in Tifton, Georgia and they decided
they would marry and wanted to live in a small town in Florida. And at that point
there were three small towns that were almost exactly the same size. One of them
was Perry, one of them was Gainesville, and one of them was Orlando. Daddy chose

Cofrin: How lucky for us. But what state did they come from?

Well, Dad came from the state of Kentucky. Mother's from Georgia.


Cofrin: They were born up in there?

Parrish: Yes.

Cofrin: OK. Tell me a little bit about your mother. I have a wonderful clipping about your
mother. It was from an article from Jess Davis' book.

Parrish: Well, she was a very active woman in all activities in town. She was particularly
active in Women's Club and the Garden Club--one of the founders of Garden Club--
and state president of the Garden Club. A great lady who entertained beautifully and
was just a one of a kind person.

Cofrin: And she was also awarded, in 1950 -- she was honored as one of four citizens -- by
the Rotarians. Did you remember that? I read that in the newspaper yesterday.

Parrish: Yes.

Cofrin: So that was very exciting. She was a wonderful lady. Well, tell me about your early
days in Gainesville. Where were you born in Gainesville?

Parrish: I was born in a house that is on the property where the City Hall is right now. Back
then we didn't have hospital deliveries, and I was born in that house which was right
back of the porter block where we later had an office.

Cofrin: I see. And you had lived in that house very long?

Parrish: No. Dad at that point was in real estate and insurance, and he would build houses,
and Mother would fix them up, and then he would sell them. As a matter of fact,
they built something like 13 houses in twelve years that they moved into.

Cofrin: So you moved a lot as a young man. Where did you go to school?

Parrish: To the Gainesville Public School and the University of Florida.

Cofrin: Gainesville Public School in what is now Kirby Smith?

Parrish: What is now Kirby Smith, and I moved over to old Buchholtz in Junior High.

Cofrin: Who were your neighbors and best friends in those days?
Parrish: You mean which days?

Interview with M.M. Parrish

Cofrin: Well, let's start with your grade school days.

Parrish: Well, we had so many friends. Wade Hampton, Kendry Graham, the Johnsons, and
we had a great group of young people.

Cofrin: And then when you went on to high school they were...

Parrish: They remained as friends through high school and as long as they lived.

Cofrin: And then you went to the University of Florida in what year?

Parrish: 1933. Graduated in 1937 with the highest grades in the business administration

Cofrin: Very good. And you were also a member of Blue Key.

Parrish: A member of Blue Key and was active in many campus affairs. President of my
social fraternity for two terms.

Cofrin: And were there a lot of dances in Gainesville in those days?

Parrish: Yes. But I wasn't a great dancer. I married a great dancer.

Cofrin: I know about that. OK. And then after you graduated from the University?

Parrish: I went to work for my father. Started in insurance, and shortly thereafter we found
that he had boom time property and no money so I suggested to him that he might
build a house on one of these lots and put it up for sale and help sell his land. So the
first house we built was at the entrance to Golf View. We had a showing and sold
three houses from it. For the next few years I was very much involved in house
building. As a matter of fact, I spent 50 years in custom home building.

Cofrin: When your dad was originally in insurance, what made him go into real estate?

Parrish: Well, he always liked real estate. He liked development. As a matter of fact, he said
that from the time he moved here from the late 1920's nearly every subdivision in
town he either put up himself or developed for someone else.

Cofrin: Name some of those subdivisions for me.

Parrish: Well, Golf View, Highland, Highland Heights, Suncrest, McView Estates, lots of
subdivisions here in town.

Interview with M.M. Parrish

Cofrin: And Gainesville was not a very big city in those days.

Parrish: That's right.

Cofrin: So then, World War II came along and that changed your life I expect.

Parrish: Yes, I had a friend that suggested that naval intelligence was looking for people who
had fine scholastic background and application was made in December of 1941 and
about two weeks later went into service.

Cofrin: You were in right at the very beginning then, right after Pearl Harbor. So tell me
about your career in the service.

Parrish: Well, the first part of it was spent in Marine warfare. We were stationed primarily in
Key West trying to find ways to stop the German submarines. We had a great deal of
activity with the submarines and the rescue of people from ships that had been
torpedoed. After about a year of that I wanted to get into more active service and
applied for a transfer and was chosen as a Naval Intelligence agent which I was with
the other activities, and we planned and went on invasions. The first invasion we
helped plan was the Normandy invasion. We went over to England in January and
spent until June the 6th planning and working on the invasion in the south English
area. Our admiral was in charge of Utah Beach and we went on the invasion and
shortly thereafter were called to the south part of France or actually to Naples, Italy
where we planned an invasion of southern France. When that was over we came
back and thought we had served our term and that we would spend time in United
States, but it was only about two weeks before we had orders for the South Pacific
and went to a small island in the Pacific to plan the invasion of the Philippine
Islands. When that was over we planned the invasion of Okinawa and were working
on plans for the invasion of Japan when the war was over. When the war was over I
still say it was the same admiral, Admiral Keeland, at that time, and we were in
charge of China landings, and I was allowed to leave the Navy shortly after we
landed troops and set up bases in China.

Cofrin: I suspect you were ready to leave. You had quite a job. So then the war was over
and you came back to Gainesville. At about that time did you meet your future wife?

Parrish: At about that time I met Mary again. I had known her all of my life but not well, and
it wasn't many months before we decided we'd spend the rest of our lives together.

Cofrin: Tell me her full name.

Interview with M.M. Parrish

Parrish: Mary Buck Parrish.

Cofrin: What year were you and Mary were married.

Parrish: 1946.

Cofrin: So Gainesville had changed also in the time that you'd been gone. And it continued
to grow. The University mushroomed and the city mushroomed. What was it like?

Parrish: Well, shortly after I came back, my father had been FHA Director in Gainesville, and
he moved back to Gainesville and worked with my brother in the real estate office.
We had an uncle named Phil Parrish who ran a general insurance agency who we all
worked with, and I spent most of my time until 1951 working on developments and
custom home building. In 1951 my father died, and I took the real estate exam and
started becoming active in real estate also.

Cofrin: You were also very active in civic organizations in Gainesville. Tell me which ones
you were in and how were you active.

Parrish: Of course, I was president of the Junior Chamber of Commerce, president of the
Chamber of Commerce, active in the Kiwanis Club, active in most every drive,
charitable drive, that we had in Gainesville, one that helped start the United Way.
Always have been active in trying to do things for the community particularly in
charitable affairs.

Cofrin: And you were active in getting the VA hospital here?

Parrish: Not as active as my father was. Actually Dad and Pat Keiter had more to do with
bringing the VA Hospital here than any other people. As a matter of fact, Dad used
to spend the full legislative session in Tallahassee where he worked for the
University of Florida without pay as a lobbyist and had a great deal to do. He and
Bill Shands, really did the work to bring the medical school here.

Cofrin: That was my next question. The medical school. And then also, Santa Fe Junior
College soon after that. Correct?

Parrish: Yes, and we were able to give the land for the Santa Fe Junior College because we
thought it would be a good thing for Gainesville to see as they were coming in to

Cofrin: Yes. And then the downtown development in Gainesville.

Interview with M.M. Parrish

Parrish: Yes. I was chairman of the downtown redevelopment agency and had a very active
part in the streetscapes legislation. Made several trips to Tallahassee and talked the
cabinet and Governor into agreeing to sell the Seagle Building to the City of
Gainesville for $100,000. We later came back and got them to knock the $100,000
off the price and give it to us. Then we advertised it for sale for the person who
could do the finest development of it and sold it to them. The new Seagle building, if
you want to call it that, is the result of those activities. I also went to Washington
and, thanks to the work we did with our Senators, got the grant for the downtown
parking which many people said we never would have had if we hadn't spent the time
we did in Washington bringing this in.

Cofrin: Well, now, who bought the Seagle building? The Seagle family?

Parrish: No, it was a woman named Helen Barr who lived in south Florida and was an
investor, and we convinced her that there were enough government benefits to
restoration of historic buildings for her to have an interest in it, and she got quite a
large tax write off because of the abilities to do that under those tax laws.

Cofrin: Did she name it the Seagle Building?

Parrish: No. The Seagle Building was named the Seagle Building because Georgia Seagle
gave the building to the University of Florida.

Cofrin: Now this was before this lady bought it.

Parrish: She put up the money to buy the building and the University developed it into a
museum and office building.

Cofrin: In 1977, I have a copy of a profile of you. And also in 1979 you received the
community service award.

Parrish: Fortunately I've received several of those of different types. I should be able to name
them to you but I can't.

Cofrin: Right. Well, they were very flattering and rightly so. The things you have done for
the City of Gainesville. I want to ask you a little bit about when the changes came
after World War II and the University and the City mushroomed, how did that affect
the power structure in Gainesville? Was there ever a time where there was a group
of people who were sort of in charge of politics and government and business?

Parrish: Yes. Up until that time a group of benevolent local merchants and businessmen
always tried to decide who would make a good city Commissioner and almost

Interview with M.M. Parrish

always elected him. We had some great people from their selection but after World
War II, there was a movement, at least the people at the University were encouraged
to vote rather than not vote in city elections and they've had much more to say about
who is and who is not elected than the group of businessmen.

Cofrin: So the inner circle sort of went by the wayside.

Parrish: They said it's your turn.

Cofrin: It's your turn. You were not too unhappy about that. Well, I know you and Mary
have had a wonderful life. Tell me something about, I know you've traveled a lot.

Parrish: Yes, we've been able to travel every place in the world that we want to go. We've
been to all the states in the United States, all the continents except Antarctica and to
most of the major islands in the world and have had a great life seeing wonderful
new things.

Cofrin: Well, Gainesville's been good to you but you've been very good to Gainesville.

Parrish: Well, I guess if you look at contributions to the city the thing I was probably the
most active in was commercial development. I was in a leadership position in
bringing GE here and bringing the Farm Bureau headquarters here and bringing the
tung oil products here and many other smaller industries. In each case I've had a
leadership role in trying to bring those here and spent many days and weeks out of
the city working on trying to develop industrially our community.

Cofrin: Who do you think influenced you most in your life, other than your father?

Parrish: I was going to say my father.

Cofrin: I guess he was. And I skipped over something I meant to ask you. What was your
very earliest memory of Gainesville, of your life?

Parrish: It was when we lived on old Masonic Street and I remember one day, I was just a
little boy, we walked over to the University where the administration building is
now. We found a quail's nest with quail eggs in it, and this impressed me no end.

Cofrin: You were quite young. And I expect in those younger days you did a lot of hunting
and fishing?

Parrish: I did a great deal of hunting and fishing. Don't do as much now as we did then, but
we used to always. My father taught me to shoot a gun when I was 7 or 8 years old.

Interview with M.M. Parrish

He would supervise me until I was 9 or 10 years old. We just enjoyed hunting and
fishing and outdoor sports.

Cofrin: Where were the places that you hunted and fished?

Parrish: Well, back when we started, dove shooting was the favorite of the hunting sports that
we did. We didn't have dogs to quail shoot. And most any farmer that raised peanuts
or corn welcomed your coming in and shooting the doves. Most all of this was west
of Gainesville in the Alachua to Archer area. We've hunted almost every farm in that
area through my lifetime. Later on, Wade Hampton and my brother and I bought a
little piece of ground down on Fish Prairie and built a hunting camp for duck
hunting, and it was great duck shooting for many many years. It finally dried up, and
it stopped being a great place.

Cofrin: Where is that located?

Parrish: Just north of Orange Lake. Down near Evinston a little east of Evinston. River Stix
goes right near it, from Newnan's Lake to Orange Lake drainage basin. In recent
years, most of the fishing that I've done has been out at Cooter Pond where we had
friends that bought, and we loved to fresh water bass fish. Until he died a couple of
years ago, that was the finest bass fishing that we knew of at this lake and almost
every other week my house building superintendent and I would go out there for two
or three hours and catch fish.

Cofrin: Where's Cooter Pond?

Parrish: Cooter Pond is north of Lacrosse, and it had an old tung oil grove around it at one
time. Bennetts owned the place and it was well known in tung oil circles back then.

Cofrin: There used to be quite a few tung oil groves west of Gainesville, is that correct?

Parrish: Yes. There used to be some out where the shopping center is and the hospital and
that whole area was in tung oil grove but they found that the water table here was so
high that when the trees reached a certain maturity the roots would get into the water
table and the trees died. In addition to that, we had frost that would from time to
time kill the bloom. They later found out up near Tallahassee that frost came before
the bloom was on the trees, and so the trees were able to get through that and not lose
the crop by the freezes of the bloom. And so the tung oil center of Florida moved
from here up to I think it was near Tallahassee. But it later on died, and there are no
tung oil groves that I know of in Florida today.
Cofrin: Tell me about your relationship with Senator Shands.

Interview with M.M. Parrish

Parrish: Well, he was a next door neighbor. We grew up knowing him. He was a wonderful
person, and he and Dad and Dr. Tigert used to sit on our porch on the side of our
house every weekend and plan the strategies as to what they would do in the
legislature the next week. Bill was a great hunter. We hunted a great deal together.
He was just a wonderful person.

Cofrin: And your mother was friends with Mrs. Shands.

Parrish: Yes, they were closest of friends.

Cofrin: Well, what do you think the prospects of Gainesville are now? How do you feel
about what's going to happen here? We've gotten so large.

Parrish: Well, let me say that I do not think that we will become the industrial center that I
once thought we might be. The reason is that our taxes are higher than anyone else's.
Our requirements on ecology are higher than anywhere else and our electric rates for
commercial are higher than any place in Florida. So I think that the future as far as
commercial and industrial development will have to evolve around the University of
Florida and have to be more around research type things than in development things
where the costs are not as high as they would be. Incidentally I forgot to mention
among the industries was an industry which we brought in town later on. We went to
Michigan a couple of times to help bring that here.

Cofrin: I haven't had you tell me much about Mary.

Parrish: Well, she's the greatest woman in the world.

Cofrin: Well, we both know that. And about your golf. You're a big golfer aren't you?

Parrish: I love to play golf but I play it very poorly. I used to have a 12 to 13 handicap. I am
now at 24 handicap. That means I'm not much of a golfer but I enjoy it just as much
as I did.

Cofrin: And you still get to play.

Parrish: Actually, I quit playing for a period of time and then once a week was all that I could
do because of business commitments. I just didn't have time enough to. In the last
two or three months I've started a Saturday morning game along with my Wednesday
game. We have a few couples that in the spring time play together, so I'm averaging
more than twice a week and my game's improving.

Interview with M.M. Parrish

Cofrin: Very good. Have I forgotten anything important that you need to tell me? I'm
supposed to know all the right questions. I think we've covered most everything I
can think of.

Parrish: Why don't we do this. Why don't we turn that thing off a minute and let me see if my
secretary has a resume.

Cofrin: I'd like to have that. We have this wonderful resume for M. Parrish that I'm going to
attach to our transcript, but first I want him to tell us a little about teaching Sunday
school at the Baptist Church.

Parrish: Well, let me go back a little further than this because church is a really important part
of my life. When I was in school I worked my way through school. I graded papers.
When I was a senior in school, in 1937, I won bank night, $750. This was a fortune.

Cofrin: Tell us about bank night. Not everybody knows about bank night.

Parrish: Well, it used to be you had to be at the theater when they had a drawing. They put in
$75 a week in it. If the person wasn't there it carried on to the next week. And this
time it carried for ten weeks and they pulled my name and I was there. I thought I
was the richest man in the world, and I went to see my preacher, Dr. McCall, and
said, "Dr. McCall, I've won bank night, and I want to give $75 to the church." He
says, "M., we are building a scout hut down there, and if you could give $100, that
would be enough to finish that scout hut." So I gave the $100, and the scout hut still
stands. After I graduated from college, I also decided I'd like to try to teach Sunday
School. And so the month after I graduated I started teaching 15 year old boys.
After a few years I was promoted to 16 year olds with one of the groups. We'd
usually start the year with about 6 or 7 boys. We'd end up the year normally with 10
or 12 boys. It was as much fun as anything I've ever done because every month I
would take the Sunday School boys on a picnic or outing of some type, and I got to
know the boys well this year. They enjoyed driving our cars -- 16 year olds. We had
a great time together and this carried on for 34 years that we did that.

Cofrin: What a wonderful legacy for those children. They all probably remember and you
probably know today some of them.

Parrish: Even today, I will run into some man I don't know, like this last year. I was in the
capitol building in Tallahassee and a man walked up to me and said, "M. you
probably don't remember me but I was in your Sunday School class when I was 16
years old, and I'll never forget you."

Interview with M.M. Parrish

Cofrin: You were a good influence on them. The other question we didn't talk about was
your children.

Parrish: Well, we have a wonderful family. And to not have borne any of them is an amazing
fact. Actually we adopted our daughter Catherine when she was seven years old.
Her father and his wife had gotten a divorce, and her father was Mary's brother.
They asked us if we would adopt her and raise her, which we did. A cousin lost her
mother and father, Jean Jordan, and we adopted her when she was 16 years old.
When my brother died we didn't officially ...

Cofrin: Jim Parrish.

Parrish: He is like a son to me. He's president of his company. His children call me Pap Pap
and call Mary, Nonna. We think of them as grandchildren. Jean had a son who
married, and he couldn't, or he was told that he couldn't, have children and so he
adopted a little girl the day she was born, and seven years later they had a child of
their own. And so we have 13 in our immediate family and didn't born any of them.

Cofrin: That's a pretty good record.

Parrish: I probably could bring this up to date. For example today, or this year, I'm Chairman
of Florida Real Estate Commission, a year or two ago I was picked as one of the first
three in the businessmen's hall of fame. I think it's in there that I was Realtor of the
Year for the State of Florida. I think it's in there that I am the only person in the State
of Florida who is a lifetime Director of the Florida Chamber of Commerce. As long
as I live I am a Director of the Florida Chamber of Commerce. So I've had a pretty
active life and a great life.

Cofrin: It's been a very rewarding life to you, I'm sure the City of Gainesville is more than
rewarded for what you have done for our city.

Parrish: Let me tell you one other little thing. My grandfather loved palm trees. He and
Uncle Joe Wall, who was City Manager at one time, many years back, decided that
Gainesville ought to have some palm trees. So they ordered a car load of palm trees
and planted them on what then was East Main Street. And I dug the first shovel full
of dirt in planting the palm trees and those trees are still there.

Cofrin: Yes, they are. And it's beautiful to have them. I thought of another question and
now it's left me. I thank you very much for giving us this interview. It's been a

Interview with M.M. Parrish

experience, and I'm sure it will be a great addition to the oral history program at the
Matheson Historical Center. And we hope you have enjoyed it too. We will have it
transcribed and give it back to you to edit. And then it will be down there.
Parrish: I always enjoy being with you no matter what it is.

Cofrin: Thank you very, very much.

Interview with M.M. Parrish

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