Who Are Dolly Parton’s Late Parents, Robert And Avie Lee Parton?

Dolly Parton‘s life today looks remarkably different from how it started 77 years ago. The Country and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer’s story began in a one-bedroom cabin and today, she’s been designated a certifiable country music legend. But everyone’s story begins with the people they call parents, so just whose are Dolly’s, Robert and Avie Lee Parton?

Robert and Avie died in 2000 and 2003, respectively, but their impact on Parton remains resounding as ever, especially when it comes to inspiring her philanthropic efforts. Theirs is a legacy Parton aims to keep alive and whose stories are worth knowing.

The story of Robert and Avie Lee Parton begins

The Parton household did not have much financially / Instagram via PEOPLE

Robert Lee Parton was born on March 22, 1921, in Sevierville, Tennessee, while Avie Lee Caroline, née Owens, was born on October 5, 1923, in Lockhart, South Carolina. The couple met when they were still teens and at 17 and 15, respectively, Robert and Avie got married. However, as of their 1939 wedding, Avie did not have a wedding ring to wear.

RELATED: Dolly Parton Opens Up About Rumors That Her Sister Rachel Is Actually Her Daughter

This would remain the case for some time, as the family did not bring in a lot of income. Avie was a homemaker while Robert was a sharecropper, although he often tended his own small tobacco farm and acreage to make ends meet.

Dolly Parton’s parents, Avie and Robert Lee Parton / Instagram via PEOPLE

Together, they had 12 children, 11 of whom survived into adulthood; those are Willadeene, David, Dolly, Robert Jr., Stella, Cassie, Randy, Larry, twins Floyd and Freida, and Rachel. Almost a decade after Dolly was born, the financial situation was still such that the family needed to make a big compromise: “Daddy decided he was finally going to buy Momma a wedding ring. Of course, that meant that nobody else was going to get any [Christmas] gifts. That costs money.”

Looking back, Parton revealed that none of the kids quite processed that their family was classified as poor; not until an outsider told them. But Avie and Robert made sure to provide in abundance enrichment of the soul and heart, and so Parton could confidently say, “We didn’t have any money, but we were rich in things that money don’t buy. You know, like love and kindness and understanding.”

They were rich in the things that mattered

Avie is responsible for Parton’s love of music / Instagram via PEOPLE

Her mother fanned the sparks of Parton’s interest in music, with Avie singing to the kids to entertain them. She was limited in what she could do, since Avie was left weakened by her multiple pregnancies so back to back like that. But she made sure to sing and regale the kids with ancient ballads from their immigrant ancestors and Smoky Mountain folklore. Her mother also kept a very musical crowd and encouraged Parton’s interests when she could. The whole family was a musical bunch, so much so that her parents and several of her siblings appeared in Parton’s variety show from the ’70s and together sang “In the Sweet By and By.”

Enduring appreciation for her mom’s encouragement exists in Parton’s song “Coat of Many Colors.” The family had been gifted a box of scrap clothing from which Avie stitched together a coat just for Parton; all the while, she told her fiery daughter about the biblical story of Joseph and his own colorful coat.

Dad Robert inspired Parton to start Imagination Library, which he considers to be her greatest achievement / Instagram via PEOPLE

As for Robert, Parton pays tribute to him with her famous Imagination Library, a nonprofit dedicated to teaching children to read, a sharp contrast to her own father who was illiterate. Parton stressed how Robert “had to work instead of going to school when he was a little boy, and so he never had the chance to get an education.”

“So I said, ‘Dad, why don’t we put together a little program where we give children books from the time they’re born, once a month, until they start school?'” shared Parton. Robert wouldn’t have had it any other way, as Parton revealed, “Before he passed away, my Daddy told me the Imagination Library was probably the most important thing I had ever done.”

Today, Dollywood houses a monument to both their memories: a replica of the cabin where Parton was born, built by Robert Jr. and decorated by Avie, with memorials dedicated to them both outside. But perhaps the strongest tribute to their legacy remains Parton herself.

Dolly Parton honors the legacy of Avie and Robert Lee Parton to this day / Tina Rowden / ©Netflix / Courtesy Everett Collection

RELATED: Dolly Parton, Michael J. Fox Find Common Ground Through Experiences With Poverty

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