Through their example, P.A. and Jane Mathis taught their only son the importance of working hard and the value of a loving home.
And although Tom didn't realize it at the time, one of the couple's most important legacies was the ability to overcome considerable challenges to live life to the fullest and reach out to others. And to do it so well that they would both be honored many years later for their contributions.
"Growing up, I had a normal childhood," said Tom. "I had two supportive parents. I never saw them argue with each other. I had great Christian parents."
While creating a solid Christian home takes both work and determination, P.A. and Jane Mathis had a significant challenge to overcome in working in the community and creating a home for their family. P.A. was deaf, and Jane was hearing-impaired.
"I think it just says a lot for both of them," said Tom's wife, Cheryl Mathis. "They lived a very normal life. They were working citizens. They didn't let it get them down."
Both P.A. and Jane lived in an era when opportunities were not as accessible to people with disabilities. To learn to live -- and thrive -- in a hearing world, both would attend the Tennessee School for the Deaf in Knoxville and later reach out to create a network for other hearing-impaired residents of the West Tennessee region.
P.A. Mathis lost his father when he was 6 months old, before his mother learned that her baby was hearing-impaired. She chose to send him to the Tennessee School for the Deaf in Knoxville. At that time -- in the early 1930s -- children who attended the school came home only for breaks at Christmas and in the summer.
"It was hard on her," said Tom. "To send him so far away. But in the long run, the school provided him a strong education and trained him for working in a hearing world."
"You don't think of the sacrifice these parents had to make to send their children so far away," said Cheryl. "But they had so many opportunities. And, now, the school flies their children home each weekend."
While at the Tennessee School for the Deaf, P.A. played football and was named to the High School All-American Team as a football player. Later, P.A. would be inducted into the TSD Athletic Hall of Fame, earning the prestigious Amateur Athlete Award posthumously in 1994.
"(P.A. received) training to work at the State Gazette," said Cheryl. "Students there learned a trade. He learned the linotype."
"I remember when I was little, I would go by the State Gazette building by the library and watch him work," said Tom. "And I vividly remember that he always carried a notepad in his front pocket. That's how he communicated with the hearing world."
Originally from Dyersburg, Jane Mathis attended public school until it was time to enter high school. She was enrolled at the Tennessee School for the Deaf when she was 15 years old.
"I loved it," said Jane. "I was ready to go back after Christmas."
"That setting gives students a chance to flourish with their peers," said Cheryl.
A teacher's pet, she often traveled home with her instructors to spend time with their families. Weekends were also spent in nearby Gatlinburg, a place she still considers one of her favorite destinations. Like all TSD students, she helped care for the younger students also boarding at the school.
"When Jane went to school, the older students took care of the younger students," said Cheryl, who said Jane recently reconnected with a child from her past who used to call her 'Momma.'"
She also spent time as a cheerleader and was a member of the school's basketball and baseball (not softball) teams.
"I remember when I was young, my dad often worked long hours," said Tom. "Sometimes, when I needed to warm up before a ball game my mother would be the one to throw the ball with me. And she threw it pretty hard."
While both P.A. and Jane are TSD alumni, they actually met in Dyersburg.
P.A. moved to Dyersburg after graduation to take a position at the State Gazette. He was employed there 33 years, working the linotype.
He was introduced to Jane by Ruth Hobb.
They were married June 28, 1953.
Together, they became active members of First Baptist Church and the Dyersburg community. They went to work, created a home and raised their son without many of the amenities now available to the hard of hearing. Jane worked at Dyersburg Fabrics for 23 years.
"When I was an infant, they kept my baby bed in their room," said Tom. "Mama kept her hand on the bed as she slept. She couldn't hear me cry, but she could feel it when I started moving."
In 1964, P.A. joined Quince Watkins in starting the Deaf Picnic at Paris Landing. In 1972, the organization became Tennessee Association for the Deaf Paris Landing Chapter 5.
P.A. and Jane hosted the first meeting in their home on Nov. 12, 1972, with 33 members attending. Officers elected included Watkins as president, Hayden Phillips as vice president, Jane as secretary and P.A. as treasurer.
The organization changed its name again in 1977. Newly titled The Tennessee Association for the Deaf Jackson Chapter, meetings moved to Berryhill Center, now the West Tennessee School for the Deaf. Eventually, the group moved its meetings to the Jackson Center for Independent Living, where they continue to meet today.
P.A. remained treasurer of the chapter until his death in 1979. Jane continued on as secretary, serving the organization in that position for 35 years. She also served as president for four years.
Today, members of the JCTAD meet for fellowship, informative presentations and service projects within the community. Together, they provide a network of peers and continue to give back to others.
"She and her friend, Judy, keep the roads hot," said Cheryl. "Jane is almost 80 and very active. Sometimes, the kids will say 'Have you seen Nanny's picture on Facebook?' Being a senior citizen, she has a great group of friends to do things with."
Jane not only travels to fellowship events like bowling outings and holiday parties in Jackson, she and her friends have also attended national conventions in California, Florida, Ohio, St. Louis, Gatlinburg and Boston.
This fall, Jane was honored by the Tennessee School for the Deaf in Knoxville with entry into the Hall of Fame, as well. The award recognized her longstanding service to the Jackson Chapter of the Tennessee Association for the Deaf.
Jane and her family visited the TSD Knoxville campus for the presentation, walking the beautiful campus and enjoying a football game where spectators applauded silently by waving their hands in the air.
"It was one of the most active -- and quietest -- sporting events I have ever attended," said Tom.
Jane is very energetic and able to live on her own. Instead, she chooses to live with Tom and Cheryl and their five children. Cheryl said a stay with them a few years ago while her house was repainted and recarpeted led to a more permanent arrangement.
"She is very capable of living on her own," said Cheryl, who said Jane travels often with friends and participates in many activities on her own. "There is always something going on."
Taking advantage of the many technological advances available to connect her to the hearing world, Jane and her friends have embraced texting as a form of communication. Members of the group also have several apps on their iPhones allowing them to video chat and read each other's lips.
As technology moves forward, Jane and her peers reap the benefits of additional forms of communication with the hearing world. Closed captioning has opened up a world of entertainment all its own. Jane also regularly uses her Mac computer, laptop, iPad, cell phone, iPhone and P3 portable videophone. In fact, it was Jane who taught Cheryl how to text.
"Looking back on it now, I can see that my mom and dad were very hard workers," said Tom. "That's one thing my father taught me. I don't know if he did that to prove a point or if it was just his personality. He might have done it to show the world he was not hindered by being deaf."
Whatever his reason, P.A.'s actions taught Tom the importance of hard work and blazing a trail for others in his community. It is a lesson Tom's mother still teaches by example each and every day.
A lifetime legacy.