One thing I’ve learned from the past few months is that I really like my neighborhood. These days, our walks up and down our street are frequent. With no through traffic, our street is perfect for a 4 year-old who is mastering the art of scootering. My wife appreciates that every car that passes by is one we recognize. Our daughter is enamored with the cat from across the street, who greets us daily and follows us around everywhere. The neighbors are friendly. We hear a rooster crowing every morning and our feeders are packed with finches, cardinals, and woodpeckers. It’s a pretty good place to be stuck in quarantine.
We have been in our present house for less than a year, so this time spent staying close to home has really helped me get acquainted with the neighborhood and feel more a part of it. It has made me more curious about its history too. I had picked up bits of history from other residents but now I’ve taken the opportunity to find out more.
Right at the beginning of the street, a faded green and orange sign in the shape of a giant football reads Paremore Estates. The name on the sign and the FAMU colors are in honor of Robert “China Doll” Paremore, local sports legend and beloved educator.
Robert Cero Paremore was born in Tallahassee in 1938. Born prematurely, Bob’s mother began calling him “China Doll,” describing his frail condition. The nickname stuck even as he grew older and proved through tremendous athletic ability that he was far from fragile.
Bob was a football and track star in high school. He went on to Florida A & M University where he continued to excel in both sports. During his time as a FAMU Rattler, he was teammates in both track and in football with Robert “Bullet Bob” Hayes. Hayes competed in the 1964 Summer Olympics, setting world records in sprinting and winning gold medals (before pivoting to a career in the NFL). But Paremore was perhaps as fast as Hayes. In a tribute to Paremore in Godby High School’s 1996 yearbook, a fellow coach reflected that “when Robert Hayes was clocked at 9.2 seconds in Miami …Paremore was only a half-stride behind. He (Paremore) was clocked at 9.25 seconds. He could do 9.8 seconds in full equipment.” The speed of Hayes and Paremore combined on relay teams set national records.
Paremore running the ball during FAMU football game at Bragg Memorial Stadium in Tallahassee, Oct. 27, 1962. Florida Memory.
In the November 2, 1959 issue of The FAMUAN, a column called “Jake’s Stable” that profiled new additions to the Rattlers football team said that “Among the one-year olds, who are noted to out-run, out-show and out-maneuver all opposition are: Robert Paremore…” and “Most outstanding among the one year old racers is, of course, Robert Paremore, a 5’9″, 185 lb. halfback from Lincoln High, Tallahassee, Florida.”
Paremore, along with Hayes, led FAMU’s success in football during their times on the team. From 1961 to 1964 FAMU earned a 36-4 record. They also had three wins in the Orange Blossom Classic, an annual football matchup founded in 1933 during segregation that pitted FAMU against other historically black colleges and universities. The Classic was held annually from 1933-1978 and happens to be returning this September for the first time in 42 years.
China Doll became the first player from FAMU to make the NCAA football “Little All America” team in 1962. Other honors during his collegiate football career included the L. A. Stokes Award as Outstanding Freshman in 1959, the AII-SIAC (Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference) team in 1960, the 1961 SIAC Back of The Year, and the SIAC Player of the Year (1962).
Paremore was invited to play in several different all-star games, some which he accepted and others that he had to miss due to injury. One that he did play in was the North–South Shrine Game, an annual match-up in Miami from 1948-1973 that benefited Shriners Hospitals. The game was segregated prior to 1962, but that year Paremore, along with Willie Richardson, became the first African Americans to ever play on the South team and Paremore also took home the game’s sportsmanship award.
Paremore’s professional football career seems to have been impeded by both injuries and timing issues. He joined the NFL after being picked in the 1963 draft by the St. Louis Cardinals, playing 14 games in his first year with the team but only 4 in the next. He then signed to the newly-formed but not yet competing Atlanta Falcons (Paremore and Gary Barnes of the Chicago Bears were the first two players to ever sign with the Falcons, announced by the team on September 9, 1965). While waiting for the Falcons to get started, Paremore played a year in the North American Football League with the Florida Brahmans. As the Falcons were getting ready for their first season they released Paramore, so he joined the Montreal Alouettes in the Canadian Football League (CFL). During his time in the CFL, Paramore was hindered by injuries, yet he was still voted All-CFL and named Offensive Back of The Year. After one season with the Alouttes he was traded to the Calgary Stampeders. He was released from the Stampeders in 1968, which concluded his career as a player.
Following his exit from professional football, Paremore returned to Tallahassee to pursue a career in education. He became a teacher and coach of football and track and field at Godby High School. In Godby HS yearbooks he is listed in different years as a physical education teacher and a driver’s education instructor, but always as a coach. He taught and coached at Godby for thirty-two years before he retired.
Paremore was elected to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Small College Hall of Fame, the Florida Track Hall of Fame, and the Florida A&M Hall of Fame. Reading comments on Paremore’s memorial page (he passed away July 22, 2004) gives the impression that, while many remember his accomplishments as a player fondly, he had a more profound impact on the community though his long career as a coach and educator.
Paremore Estates primarily consists of one street known as China Doll Drive. Fifteen lots line the street. Our house sits on the corner of China Doll and Sandy James Drive, a small cross street likely named in honor of Bob’s brothers, Sandy and James. Several residents that we have met are related in some way to the Paremore family.
China Doll Drive begins off Meridian Road, across from the back entrance to Hawks Rise Elementary School. I was interested to discover through Leon County’s website that Meridian Road was established in 1824 as the Prime Meridian for surveying all of Florida.
We are just a few minutes from the Forestmeadows complex and look forward to when we can return to the soccer and tennis leagues that are held there. The street is also close to the trails of Elinor Klapp-Phipps Park and the Orchard Pond Trail (formerly Orchard Pond Road before the creation of the Orchard Pond Parkway). Right now I am so thankful to have both of these places nearby for exploration, exercise, and head clearing.
By the way, while you are spending time inside, Google Earth is a fun way to explore Tallahassee and beyond. It can be quite the rabbit hole. If you are not familiar, Google Earth presents a searchable 3-D model of the Earth based on satellite imagery. The data used to image China Doll Drive was captured in 2013, so I am able to see what has changed between then and now. Our yard became fenced and the house went from tan to white at some time in the last seven years. There are new plantings and I can see that some trees have been removed. What was an empty lot across the street is now a new home. While there have been some changes, I imagine much of the street’s charm, and Robert Paramore’s original vision, remains intact.
Does spending more time at home have you more curious about your neighborhood?
The Brownsville Herald – December 20, 1962
The Indianapolis Recorder, January 5, 1963
Orlando Sentinel, January 7, 2000