By Michaela Gibson Morris
TUPELO – After decades of service to Regional Rehabilitation Center, Kay Mathews is bowing out, but she’s leaving a well-known friend to guide the Tupelo institution.
A speech pathologist by training, Mathews has served at Regional Rehab for a total of 27 years during two different tenures.
“It’s family time, I have kids and grandkids here,” said Mathews, 70, who will celebrate her 50th wedding anniversary with husband Dan this fall.
Mathews and Regional Rehab board president state Rep. Steve Holland introduced her successor, Robby Parman, in a Tuesday afternoon press conference.
The 36-year-old Prentiss County native has served as the campaign director United Way of Northeast Mississippi for the past two years.
“Robby has proven his love for those less fortunate,” Holland said. He “brings a wealth of knowledge and passion.”
Parman will officially start June 9 as the center’s fourth executive director in its 53-year history. Mathews’ last day will be July 1.
Mathews leaves a great legacy of service, Parman said. He’s grateful to be a part of the nonprofit organization which has provided physical, occupational and speech therapy services without charge.
“What a great opportunity to be a part of Regional Rehab,” Parman said. “I’m excited to get going.”
Mathews started her career with Regional Rehab in 1965 and worked closely with the founders – Nita and Bob Butler and John “Red” Rasberry.
Rasberry, the center’s first executive director, hired Mathews for both of her tenures in 1965 and 1993. In between, she raised a family and worked with the Northeast Mississippi Health Planning Council and the Tupelo Public School District. With her husband, Dan, she helped found four furniture-related companies in the 1980s before returning to Regional Rehab in 1993.
“I wanted to come back to doing what I loved,” Mathews said of her second tenure with Regional Rehab.
Rasberry, who died in 2010, thought highly of Mathews and saw great potential in her from the beginning, said his daughter Emily Barber.
“She’s always been an asset to the center,” Barber said.
Mathews became clinical director in 1998 and then executive director in 2002 while continuing to see speech therapy clients.
During her tenure as executive director, Mathews continued the center’s tradition of providing physical, occupational and speech therapy services free of charge to all clients. In 2008, she oversaw a $2.2 million renovation of the then-45 year-old building.
“Kay has just been the heart, soul, mind and body of Regional Rehab,” Holland said.
Mathews plans to volunteer with Regional Rehab. She and the board have left open the possibility she may return in a part-time capacity as a speech pathologist.
“I’ve just grown up with Regional Rehab.”
Parman, who graduated from Mississippi State University in 1999 with a degree in social work, has spent his professional career in service.
He worked as social worker with the Department of Human Services for three years before serving as the director of the Boys & Girls Club in Booneville. He went on to serve with the Boys Scouts of America as a district executive in Tupelo and as a district director in Washington, D.C. During his two years with the United Way, the nonprofit agency had record-breaking fundraising campaigns.
For 2013, the agency surpassed its $2.4 million goal.
Parman will take on the duties of guiding the center and raising the money to cover the center’s $1 million annual budget. The center’s 13-person professional staff takes care of some 2,000 clients each year. Funding comes from the United Way, county boards of supervisors, grants and donations from individuals and a number of fundraising events. He will also have plenty of opportunities to put his social work skills to work for Regional Rehab’s clients.
“I love working with families and doing whatever we can do to help,” Parman said.
He and wife, Colleen Parman have a 9-month-old son. They live in Tupelo.