Tarbox, Elmer Lois (1916–1987)

By: Jeanne F. Lively

Type: Biography

Elmer Lois Tarbox, legislator and sporting-goods manufacturer, was born in Bishop, Oklahoma, on March 7, 1916, the son of Jake E. and May (Riley) Tarbox. He grew up in Higgins, Texas, where he excelled in sports except football; the school was too small to field a football team. Later, at Texas Technological College (now Texas Tech University), Tarbox learned how to play football by watching the other players and in time was so successful that he acquired the sobriquets "Higgins Hurricane" and "Elmer the Great." During his college sports career Tarbox also lettered in basketball and track and boxed during the off seasons. He graduated with a B.B.A. degree in 1939. At the beginning of World War II he enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps and learned to pilot the B-25 bomber. Eventually he became one of Claire Lee Chennault's Flying TIgers in the China-Burma-India theater and was awarded an Air Medal, a Silver Star, a Purple Heart, and the Golden Eagle of China, which Gen. and Mrs. Chiang Kai-shek presented. Upon discharge, Tarbox returned to Lubbock and embarked on several business careers. As a college football player he had observed that the mud that stuck to players' shoes on a wet field added weight and caused fatigue to already tired muscles, but the benefits were visible weeks later in stronger ankles with better muscle tone. In 1957 he began manufacturing Elmer's Weights, conditioning and rehabilitation devices for various parts of the body. At first the business was a cottage industry in which he was assisted by his wife; later it grew into a successful business in a plant near Wolfforth, just west of Lubbock.

In 1966 Tarbox ran successfully for the lower house of the state legislature from the Seventy-sixth District; he was regularly returned to office for five terms, until 1976. In the legislature he sponsored bills to authorize the chairman of the board of directors of Texas Tech University to convey land to the Western Information Network and to promote adult education and served on the appropriations committee that set up the medical school at Texas Tech University. He was instrumental in establishing the Tarbox Parkinson's Disease Institute, one of six such facilities in the world, at Texas Tech in 1972. After his retirement from the legislature Tarbox was honored in 1977 for his work with the Texas Tech University Medical School to help develop a treatment and cure for Parkinson's disease, from which he suffered. He was a member of the board of St. John's Methodist Church in Lubbock, a president of the Texas Tech Ex-Students Association, and a member of the Texas Tech Athletic Hall of Fame. He was a Democrat. Tarbox married Maxine M. Barnett on March 29, 1944, and they had four children. He died in Lubbock on November 2, 1987, of complications of Parkinsonism and was buried at Resthaven Cemetery in Lubbock.

Explorations (publication of the Tarbox Parkinson's Disease Institute), Fall 1982. Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, April 14, 1977, October 5, 1980. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Who's Who in the South and Southwest, Vol. 10.

  • Sports and Recreation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Jeanne F. Lively, “Tarbox, Elmer Lois,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 25, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/tarbox-elmer-lois.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.