Age 102, Dr. Gadson Jack Tarleton, Jr. passed away September 3, 2022 at Brookdale, Green Hills. He was born April 29, 1920 in Sumter, South Carolina to Gadson and Ruby Delaine Tarleton, Sr.
Called ‘Jack’ and ‘Doc’ by those who knew him, he was an eager learner as a child according to his mother ‘Miss Ruby.’ Miss Ruby taught her children at home before they started school and added to their education using fun and games to keep learning fun. Jack was known for bringing joy wherever he went, but few knew where he learned the skill of mixing joy with work.
As a child, he grew up with both parents in the home. His father was a tailor and clothing cleaner and his mother was a seamstress. The importance of his early home training was important in his future. His job was to thread needles for his mother and iron pant seams for his father. Precision and attention to detail were learned as a child and carried through to his medical career, where he would be careful in reading X-rays and studying cancer using new technology in those days but very old compared to today.
Jack attended school and graduated from high school in Sumter, South Carolina. He had one sibling, Juanita called ‘Nita,’ and he was required to protect her; however, it is believed that she protected him too. In Sumter, he had a very large extended family who moved to the city from the family farm seeking better wages and careers. One extended family member was called ‘Aunt Vashti’ who gave loans and helped those who ‘went to school.’ Jack’s mother once told of taking him to meet Aunt Vashti. One of the questions was about his plans for future education. Her encouragement was meaningful and remembered.
To earn money for college, he worked as a porter carrying luggage for tips on a railroad. After earning enough money to go to college, his father demanded that Jack give his earnings to pay for college for his sister, Nita. Jack and his mother remembered the sadness of that time. Ruby, a prayerful women thought of a plan. She told of how she went to the only doctor in Sumter who’d serve African Americans and asked for a loan. When the doctor loaned her the money, she would work sewing more clothes and repay the loan. Unknown to all for many years, Miss Ruby hid money inside a piano she bought with her own earnings. She said that if her husband knew she had money, “he would spend it.” The doctor gave the loan to her husband who then worked extra hard to repay it. The doctor then gave the payments to Miss Ruby who built up her savings again. When Jack wanted to attend medical school, she sent him $4 a week, which he had to use for all his expenses. In the 1940s, $4 had the buying power of about $70. Jack had to live on about $280 a month. He once discussed those hard financial times and how he creatively found ways to eat, pay rent and survive. He remained thrifty and was known for repairing worn soles on shoes instead of buying a new pair.
After graduating from Morris College in Sumter, South Carolina, he attended Meharry for medical school training.
Entering the Army as an enlisted serviceman, he was promoted to officer rank on the same day he was offered training as a radiologist. He chose to go to radiology training without serving as an officer.
During part of his medical residency training, he went to New York, New York where he received further training riding on ambulances providing direct medical care to complete his medical residency.
He had a plan in New York to seek and marry “good Catholic girl” while in New York. He met the large Thomas family while there. In those years he met his future wife, Rhea Thomas, at a Catholic dance, the ‘MeetUp.’ Jack and Rhea married then moved to Nashville in 1949. They remained married for 63 years.
Jack worked at Hubbard Hospital and the VA in Murfreesboro where he retired. His hobbies were Bridge, hunting, fishing, deep sea fishing, gardening and others. He enjoyed being a sportsman, and at one time was a member of the Sportsman Club. He worked tirelessly for the betterment of the city of Nashville and it’s African American residents. His name is listed in Bronze at the Bordeaux YMCA where he stood firm demanding that African Americans could and should have a YMCA when they were not permitted into other YMCAs. He received many awards from the YMCA, NAACP, and recognition by the state of Tennessee. His volunteer work included the battle to integrate Catholic schools and churches in the southern U.S.A.
His final years were overshadowed by COVID pandemic restrictions. The children of his long-time friends and new friends and the Bridge club were a lifeline for him. Bridge friends included his neighbors Josh and Erin Hurst, Helen Ross, Mai Olive Lusk and others. Howard Gentry and his sister Carol were children of his older friends, and he continued friendship with the Gentrys to the end. Jack remembered his Alpha Phi Alpha song right to the final weeks of his life.
Jack was preceded in death by his parents, Gadson Jack Tarleton, Sr. and Ruby Delaine; his sister Juanita Tarleton Gordon; and his adopted daughter, Therese Tarleton).