By JOEL McNEECE
Ottis Crocker has more stories to tell than most trees have leaves. It’s understandable given his many experiences – his father, Dr. O.B. Crocker, owned and operated the Bruce Hospital with Dr. Shed Davis for several decades; Ottis played on one of the best football teams in Bruce High School history; he allegedly sweet-talked former Lt. Governor Brad Dye’s girlfriend into going out with him and later married her; and he’s practiced law in Bruce for 45 years and has served as the town’s municipal judge for the past 18.
Crocker’s parents were both born and raised in Calhoun County. Dr. Crocker was raised in the Reynolds community near present day Mt. Moriah, east of Bruce. His mother, Ora Hawkins Crocker, was a native of Vardaman. Ottis, however, was born in Houston while his father was working with Dr. Philpot.
They moved to Bruce in 1939 when Ottis was three years old. His father went into practice with Dr. Shed Davis. When Dr. Davis was appointed state health examiner for this area, Dr. Crocker bought out his share of the Bruce Hospital and continued to run it for years.
“He kept his business and home very separated,” Ottis said. “He didn’t talk about it a lot at home. Although I do remember they never wanted me to use the telephone as a child because they didn’t want me tying up the line in case someone was needing a doctor.”
Alan Logan was operating the telephone service at the time from a house near where the telephone company’s equipment yard is now, northeast of the Bruce Square.
Zeda Ray was the late night operator, Ottis recalled.
“She would refer a call to the house, or sometimes she would tell the caller Dr. Crocker’s not there because he just a got a call from so-and-so and he’s over there now,” Crocker said with a smile. “She knew everything that was going on. Those were different times.”
He recalled Earl Zinn was Bruce Company manager at the time and on occasion liked to “have a good time.”
“He would call long distance late at night and you couldn’t get him off the phone,” Ottis said. “Zeda Ray would eventually just cut him off.”
Football was one of Ottis’ passions when he was attending Bruce High School. His first coach was Lawrence Matulich, whose brother Eagle starred at Mississippi State and later played in the pros.
“I thought a lot of Coach Matulich,” Ottis said.
Matulich was succeeded by Paul Ketchins.
“We had a super team my senior year, not really because of me, but all the other talent we had,”
Among his teammates in 1956 were William Ottis Hurst, Tiny Murphree, Red Logan and Bobby Archer.
“They were all great athletes,” Ottis said. “We were so good that people started cancelling games against us.”
It started after a trip to Ackerman, the former home of Coach Ketchins. The Bruce team opened up a 55-7 lead.
“They just gave up at that point,” Ottis said.
Afterwards the Ackerman coach began calling around North Mississippi putting out warnings about the Bruce team, and the schedule suddenly became much shorter as several teams backed out.
When he wasn’t playing football, Ottis was in search of more fun. Among his favorite hang-outs was R.B. Brown’s pool room on the west side of the square.
“My mother was never real happy about that,” Ottis said.
Due to his father’s success, Ottis was given a new Ford vehicle as a junior in high school from the Hawkins dealership in Calhoun City. His mother was a Hawkins.
“I was real fortunate as a kid, but it didn’t bother me and didn’t seem to bother any of my friends,” Ottis said. He never got interested in hunting and fishing like many of his friends, but when they were available, they loved to pile in his car and go places.
“We would go to Oxford, Grenada, even Memphis,” Ottis said.
Among his running-buddies were Red Logan, Bud Logan, Billy Keith Burnham, Bill Barnett, William Ottis Hurst, and later Gale Denley, who moved to Bruce during Ottis’ senior year in high school.
One good time Ottis missed out on was when Elvis visited Bruce in the summer of 1955.
“I was gone somewhere when he came,” Ottis said. “But I remember the whole town was buzzing when I got back from his performance.”
Ottis attended college at Ole Miss with the intentions of following in his father’s footsteps.
“I started out in pre-med but it didn’t take long for me to figure out all that biology and chemistry wasn’t my thing,” Ottis said.
He left school just two years in, but returned approximately two years later after a stint in the U.S. Army. Upon his return he decided to give law school a try.
It was during this time that he met his wife Kay Embry, a native of Grenada. They were both in school at Ole Miss at the same time, but actually met at an Ole Miss football game in Memphis. They were introduced by Brad Dye, also a native of Grenada who later became Lt. Governor of Mississippi. Ottis and Kay were married less than a year later.
He graduated from law school in 1962 and soon after went to work in the oil and gas business in El Dorado, Arkansas. After almost three years there, they moved back to Bruce following the death of Ottis’ mother.
“Bruce was always home, so I was interested in coming back,” Ottis said. “I felt like I could be of some help for my father also.”
“We moved in with my father for a few years,” Ottis said. “Then he decided to get remarried, and we had to move out into a rental house he owned.”
Kay and Ottis moved back into the family home in 1975 after Dr. Crocker passed out.
Ottis began practicing law in Bruce in 1965. His first office was upstairs in the Crocker-Harrelson building catty-cornered from the Bruce Company Store. Dr. Waits’ dentist office and Dr. Goudelock’s office had preceded him in that location.
Ottis’ office today is in a building on the east side of the Bruce Square that once served as Bruce’s Post Office. His other early memories around town were of W.J. Liles’ grocery store where Jeffery’s is now; Edwards’ Feed and Seed in the southwest corner where Pizza Palace is now; Jesse Yancy Jr.’s office on the square (Yancy was a prominent attorney at the time who later became a state senator); and the unique money exchange at the Bruce Company Store.
“They didn’t have cash registers at the counter,” Ottis said. “You put your money in some kind of container and they pulled it upstairs to the office and made change and sent it back down.”
Ottis dabbled in politics in 1967 when he ran for county attorney.
“Henry Lackey beat me, and I decided politics wasn’t the line of work for me,” Ottis said.
Ottis became Municipal Judge for Bruce in 1992.
“I really enjoy that,” he said. “It never ceases to be interesting.”
Ottis will turn 74-years-old in June, but says a full-retirement just doesn’t suit him. He said his secretary, Carol Barefield, is “exceptionally qualified” and allows him to continue working “just enough.”
“I don’t work nearly full-time,” he said. “But I love to work enough just to keep me occupied.”