The Godfather of Gibson’s Donuts

In East Memphis by Rebecca Phillips2 Comments

donuts

There are many facts and stories we could tell of Gibson’s Donuts, such as how the original owner, Lowell Gibson, hadn’t initially planned to run a donut shop and when he did own one he closed it only one day a year for Christmas. We aren’t going to speak of the bacon sprinkled donut or the magical ingredients the people of Gibson’s compound to get people back in the doors night and day.

Instead, the story we bring you is about a man named Hoyt Wilson, or the man Gibson’s staff refer to as “Gibson’s Godfather.” They said his seat was at the head of the large table and if anyone was sitting there, they knew to get up when Mr. Wilson walked in the door.

To a kid like Frank Estrada, Mr. Wilson was essentially an adoptive grandfather and a lifelong friend. Frank’s mother cleaned the Wilson’s home for employment three days a week and at the age of three, Frank joined his mom each day which led to a heartfelt relationship between them and the Wilson’s. His recollection is as follows…

It wasn’t long before Mr. Wilson asked my mom if it would be okay if I go with him to the donut shop and other places with him. She said of course! I remember going to the post office, Three Little Pigs for breakfast, and visiting the NBC bank downtown. I was allowed back into the vault with Mr. Wilson and according to Mrs. Wilson, not very many people are allowed back there so I was lucky. But the most important place we went was Gibson’s Donuts! I went with Mr. Wilson almost everyday to Gibson’s. He had a cellphone in his Cadillac and he would let me call my mom from the car to let her know that I’m on my way to or from Gibson’s. He used to tell me the car was magic because it drove by itself without him manning the wheel. Later I found he was using his knee to steer! (Haha!) He used to call me Big Tiger and my mom would tell me that I used to tell him, “No, you’re Big Tiger!” and soon I become Little Tiger and he Big Tiger. All of my cavities came from Gibson’s because I would always order 2 chocolate donuts and a Coke. Crazy, right? I know. I remember bits and pieces here and there going to Gibson’s with Mr. Wilson, we practically went there for 2 years together before I started Kindergarten!

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“I don’t know what brought them to Memphis but Mr. and Mrs. Wilson were wonderful people. They shared anything and everything with mom. Mrs. Wilson taught my mom about Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas, Santa Claus, the Easter bunny, how to cook, how to set a table, how to host a party, etc. We owe a great deal to them. It turned into a life long friendship. They came to every birthday party, Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas dinner, event, or cookout if they weren’t out of town. As I started growing I was no longer Little Tiger, I was Little Big Tiger. They pushed me in school and for me to always do my best in everything that I did. It was always a pleasure to see them. The only thing I regret was not seeing them while they were ill. I never got a chance to say goodbye and thank them for all they have done for me and my family. I honestly believe it was them that made us who we are today. I love them and miss them dearly. Marilyn Merritt Wilson passed away October 15, 2012 after a brief illness. She was 79. Hoyt Lynn Wilson passed away January 8, 2013 after a brief illness but I believe he couldn’t live without Mrs. Wilson. He was 83 and they were married for 56 years. They didn’t have any children of their own but I like to call them my American grandparents. They saw me grow up. I went to Gibson’s recently and they hung a picture of Mr. Wilson behind the counter. I don’t know if it’s still there or not but it sure did put a smile on my face.

The picture of Hoyt Wilson is today, in fact, still displayed above the coffee station behind the cashier counter.

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Frank Estrada is a fellow friend and artist we are fond of. You can check out his amazing art and style at littlebigtiger.tumblr.com.

Photo of Mr. Wilson about to hit up the piñata, courtesy of Frank Estrada.

Photo of Mr. Wilson about to hit up the piñata, courtesy of Frank Estrada.

Rebecca Phillips

I am a female born in the United States though I generally fear the border patrol. Buy me an ice cream cone and maybe I'll paint you something.

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Comments

  1. Such a wonderful blog about such a wonderful kind hearted man. I was the cashier at Gibsons that pulled the photo of The Godfather down, so it could be posted here. Gibsons isn’t the same without him. By the end of the story I had tears running down my cheeks. He & Marilyn were very close to my heart. Thank you. He deserves this recognition.

    1. Author

      Melissa, thank you for those kind words, for taking the photo down for picture taking, and for sharing a little bit of history with us.

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