Cemetery visit leaves doctor digging for clues to past

BY LESLIE CRISS

Daily Journal

A visit several years ago to a church cemetery not far from Meridian gave Jackson obstetrician/gynecologist Tom Wiley fodder for fiction.

Wiley and his wife, Merrie, drove from their Jackson home to Magnolia Cemetery in Meridian to check on the grave of Merrie Wiley’s father. Before returning home, the couple visited Lockhart Cemetery, a 10-mile drive outside Meridian and the resting place of Merrie Wiley’s stepgreat-grandmother, Lizzie Parker.

Tom Wiley said he’d heard his wife talk about some of her family members buried in Lockhart many times, especially the story of all seven children of Lizzie Parker’s children, buried there as babies.

But on this visit in January 2006, Wiley saw for himself the seven graves and became haunted by what he saw in the Parker family plot.

“As I was looking at the little stones, it suddenly hit me that something wasn’t right,” Wiley writes in his introduction to “The Angels of Lockhart.” “Something didn’t fit. Here were seven babies who all died between the ages of eleven months and twenty-two months. Each had died before the next one was born.

“There was no epidemic that had come through the community and wiped out the future of Stephen’s (Parker) second family. No two deaths were related; each loss a loss until itself. There was no history in the family of any genetic or inherited diseases that would have led to infant death, and as far as anyone knew, each child had been a healthy, normal baby.”

From Lockhart Cemetery that day two years ago, Tom Wiley took away the seeds of a story – and the troubling thoughts of those seven dead babies.

Since most family members who might be able to answer Wiley’s questions were no longer living, he was able to find few facts. Still, he wondered.

He picked the brains of his wife and a few of her relatives in search of any family details. But so much was left up to his own imagination.

Painstaking research of marriage licenses, birth and death records, and census reports yielded some information that allowed Wiley to develop what he said is a “fairly authentic timeline.”

“The Angels of Lockhart” is the coupling of Wiley’s imagination and his research – a work of fiction based on facts.

And the result is a story of family ties, triumphs, tragedies. And more than a modicum of mystery.

Ties to Tupelo

The author grew up in Tupelo, graduating from Tupelo High School in 1969, before heading to Mississippi State University and later medical school at the University of Mississippi.

His mother, Pearl Wiley, still lives in the family home in Tupelo, as do several siblings: sisters, Ellen White and Linda Bowlin, and a brother, Bob Wiley.

Wiley has practiced medicine in Jackson for 23 years. He and his wife are the parents of four children and four grandchildren.