Dr. Fred Tallent: a history of generosity and kindness

Dr. Jim TumblinFountain City, Our Town Stories

Few Fountain Citians of the past have been as well known or as respected as Dr. J. Fred Tallent. His pharmacy at 112 Hotel Avenue was where one had prescriptions filled, dropped in for a soda or a sundae or stopped for a “pop” after school if you attended Central High School, then just up “The Hill” from him.

Tallent was born in Madisonville on April 26, 1902, the son of William J. and Susan West Tallent. He opened his first pharmacy at 5310 Broadway in 1933 and sold it to Dr. Bill Bryant in 1945. He then opened at the Hotel Ave. location, and the two became friendly competitors operating only a block apart. Dr. Bryant was quoted as saying, “He helped me get started. You could not help but like the fellow. He was like a father to me.”

Tallent’s Oval Windows. The doors which are still present today at the same location are a part of the unique historic character of Hotel Avenue. Note Tallent’s entrance about midway of the block. (Courtesy of the artist, the late Bill Kidwell)

His new location might have been the subject of a Norman Rockwell painting. It became a part of the quaint historic block of Hotel that remains so to this day. One walked through the unique oval doors which are still present to observe several round marble-topped tables with curlicued metal chairs and the soda counter to the side. The tall pharmacist, immaculately dressed in white shirt, tie and vest, seemed always present with his helpmate and wife, Kathleen Harrington Tallent (1902-1990), also standing by.

His genial manner was punctuated when one found a candy bar or a pack of gum or peanuts in the package with the “over the counter” remedy or the prescription they had purchased. And often they were dismissed with one of Doc Tallent’s memorable expressions. One favorite was used when a flock of students stopped for a treat after school. He would jovially say, “We have had a hateful rush today.”

After he had experienced a couple of burglaries when the sliding back door was jimmied open, a faithful customer offered to install an alarm. Doc Tallent showed him the “alarm” he had already installed—cans and bottles, cigar boxes and other stuff stacked against the door so that they would fall and make a terrible noise if the door was opened.

He was a mentor to many young Fountain Citians who worked part time in the store. And they often became his friends for life. One of them, Jake Steele, remembers returning from the Navy in 1953 with a wife and child and difficulty making ends meet. He recalled that Doc Tallent told him when he needed medicine, “Just pay me when you can.” Ruth Wallace remembered other such kindnesses she had heard about that occurred during the aftermath of the Great Depression.

Doc Tallent passed away at his home on Gibbs Drive on August 5, 1987, at age 85 after a bout with cancer and after a career of 50 years as a pharmacist. He was survived by his wife, Kathleen H. Tallent, two sisters, Mrs. Minnie Cunningham and Mrs. Beth Moses, both of Athens, and several nieces and nephews. He was a long-time member of Central Baptist Church of Fountain City.

Funeral services were held at Mynatt’s Chapel with the Rev. Dillard Mynatt officiating. He was interred at Lynnhurst Cemetery. His pallbearers were Ray Wallace, Mrs. Robert R. Clark, Jake Steele, Bailey Davis, Bill Neubert and Don Grabyl. The honorary pallbearers were Dr. A. Pat Kelly, Dr. Joseph Duggins, Bill Wallace, Dr. Kenton Page, Howard Garbee and Joe Watkins.

Author’s Note: Thanks to Charles D. Bolus, J. Steve Cotham and Danette Welch for their assistance with the text and photographs for this column.

Jim Tumblin, retired optometrist and active historian, writes a monthly series on Fountain City for KnoxTNToday.com.

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