How a Dust Bowl girl wound up seventy years later as one of the most beloved residents of a Mississippi Gulf Coast town.
- story by Pat Saik
Dovey’s “do what needs to be done” attitude surely was inspired during her childhood in a small rural home in Oklahoma. With no siblings, “I was the only brat in the family.”
Jake Mayes and wife Maurice lived in Ryan, Oklahoma when Dovey was born in 1933. She grew up out in the country; the family had no electricity until she was 15 years old. Indoor plumbing came about the same time.
“We had a garden and raised a pig every year. She recalls neighbors from nearby farms coming over to butcher the hogs together. Mama used the fat of the pig to make lye soap.”
“We were poor, but we never did without anything,” Dovey says firmly.
“I got a whipping if I forgot to say ‘yes, ma’am’ or ‘no sir’ to an adult. In fact, I still say ‘yes ma’am.’ And I was taught it was impolite to ask for something if we went to visit. I always waited to see if we would be offered some refreshment. I never asked first.”
“My parents were honest, hardworking people. My father was a true advocate of the earth. He fed wolves in the winter and he never killed more game than we could eat.”
“Daddy brought home horned toads and rabbits for me to see and touch. He would take me by an anthill and teach me how the colony worked. Daddy was a real conservationist.”
“I grew up with animals. I fed cows hay in the winter. Mr. Beck, who was in charge of the barn, taught me how to ride a horse. I had a Shetland pony that wouldn’t go much farther than a few yards before he’d turn around and head back to the barn.
“My parents stressed to me every night at dinner how important it was for me to get an education. They said I could either get an education or spend my days working a farm.”
Dovey was educated in a two room schoolhouse. Grades one to four were in one room and grades five to eight in another. She then attended high school at Ryan High, some 23 miles from her home but graduated from high school in Nocona, Texas. In between she and her parents joined the migration of “Oakies” and went to California for a very short time. They then moved to Texas.
“I did well in school and when I graduated in1950, I earned a scholarship to go to nurses’ training in Dallas at the Methodist Hospital.”
At that time, young women didn’t have much of a choice of occupation. “You were either a teacher or a nurse,” Dovey says dryly. Having gotten a scholarship in nursing, that’s the path she chose.
“It was my first time away from home and I called my parents three days later and told them I wanted to come home. My mama told me I had to stay and my daddy talked me through it.”
“After I finished nursing school a friend prodded me to become an anesthetist; by December 1956 I completed that training at Barnes Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri.
And so it was that Dovey began a 60-year career as an anesthetist. She retired this year from her position at Hancock Medical in Bay St. Louis.
Dovey moved to Bay St. Louis in 2001, looking to find a quiet place to live. Having lived in Tampa for 22 years, she says the city just got too busy, too loud, too crowded, too congested. Before leaving, Dovey had accumulated accolade after accolade for her dedication to both patients and those in the community in need.
With 15 years in the medical community here, people are always calling Dovey about this doctor or that doctor, where to go, who to see, what to do. It gratifies Dovey to give whatever information she knows about who may best help with a particular medical condition. People in the know feel that talking to Dovey is better than consulting a medical website.
These days Dovey takes in several rounds of golf with friends who have played with her for years. Dovey has travelled widely across the U.S. and abroad. She displays a collection of golf balls from every course she has played.
Besides playing golf, Dovey has a passion for collecting art. She supports the work of local artists in particular, and her walls are filled with an eclectic collection of pieces. Local artist Kathe Calhoun is one of her favorites. She loves Native American art and has dedicated an entire wall to displaying the pieces she has acquired over the years.
Suddenly Dovey almost broke into song: “I love this town. It’s easy. I can ride my bike. People are friendly. And if I need anything I can stop and ask somebody.”
“I love it that people know your name. You don’t have to pull out an ID. When I got sick people brought over so much food I had to freeze some of it for later.”
Dovey pauses for a moment and then lets out a breath. “I feel safe here. I think our little town is safe.”
Dovey has framed a small poster she displays in her living room. It reads just what Dovey would say: “I wasn’t born in Mississippi, but I got here as soon as I could.”