Thomas Porter Durrant always did his best to serve the public, and if that meant staying open until 1 or 2 a.m. Christmas morning because people were coming in to his 32 East Tabernacle shop for cameras, batteries and flash bulbs, he would do so, according to his son Tom Durrant.
Over the 40 plus years Dixie Photo Shop operated, Thomas Porter Durrant acquired a massive amount of photos and negatives. He also accumulated items that sometimes were never used “and are classic to bygone eras such as various Kodak cameras and Kodak film, his son said. “He (Thomas Porter or “T.P.” Durrant) had a Polaroid display that has never been opened. It’s brand new in a box.”
“He (Thomas Porter Durrant) didn’t like to waste time,” Tom Durrant said. “He was doing something all the time. He saw additional value in everything and I think he saw that in people too.”
Thomas Porter also “didn’t believe his country owed him anything.” When he died, he had thousands of dollars in uncashed Social Security checks.
Thomas Porter Durrant was born July 28, 1906 in Wyoming, near Driggs, Idaho to Walter Henry Durrant and Almira Theresa Porter Durrant. His mother was delivered by a mid wife. During his first few years of life, he was very sick and people called him “poor sickly Tom,” according to his daughter, Debra Judd.
Besides Thomas Porter Durrant, his parents had two boys and one girl. Deborah said Theresa Porter Durrant was born in 1871 and was raised in Vancouver, Canada. She joined the LDS Church and was in her 30s, living in Colorado when she met Walter Henry Durrant.
Tom Durrant believes his grandparents were both school teachers at the time.
“When she married my grandfather, she lost her country (Canada) and her family because he (her husband) was a Mormon,” Deborah said.
Almira Theresa Porter Durrant died of either appendicitis or paratonitis when Thomas Porter Durrant was 12 or 13 years old, according to Tom Durrant. Walter Henry Durrant later remarried and had two daughters and a son by his second wife.
Thomas Porter Durrant was raised in Idaho, Salt Lake City and in Vernon, Utah.
As a child, he was given a camera by his mother who was a photographer “and that is what got him started in photography,” Tom Durrant said.
As a young man, Thomas Porter Durrant became a professional photographer. In this new profession, he had a regular traveling circuit of taking pictures of school children in the Salt Lake City area, in Nevada, and even into Canada, Tom Durrant said. It was while on this traveling circuit that he met his future wife, Marilyn Jane Miner in Magrath, Alberta, Canada, a small farming town. Because she was a recent convert to the LDS Church, she was baptized June 20, 1943. A day later, they were married on the steps of the Alberta, Canada temple in Cardston. A year later, they returned to Cardston and were sealed in the Alberta Temple, according to daughter, Deborah Judd.
The couple then moved to Bingham Canyon where he opened Fox Photo, a photography shop. This is also where they began raising their first three children: Grace ,Tom, and Myron Durrant. In November 1955, Thomas Porter Durrant moved his family to St. George to buy out a Mr. Rollins who owned Dixie Photo Shop, which was operating on the main floor of the three-story Arrowhead Hotel near the corner of Tabernacle and Main Street.
Thomas Porter and Marilyn Jane Durrant’s fourth child, Debra was born in St. George in 1961.
In 1964, Dixie Photo Shop moved to its present location of 32 East Tabernacle. A neon sign depicting Dixie Photo Shop still extends from the store front (over the cement walkway) while the business is also known as Dixie Photo Studio (that sign is depicted in black letters on a glass store front).
Here, Thomas Porter Durrant ran his photography shop until 1999 when he died. When he took photos of school children, he would say “Smile at the birdie,” and then he would have them repeat the words, “cheese,” said Tom Durrant.
Thomas Porter Durrant always took two pictures of each child to give them a choice of pictures to pick from. He would then do his best to persuade them to order wallet size photos of themselves.
Tom Durrant remembers St. George resident Brigham Johnson telling him that when Thomas Porter Durrant came out to take Johnson’s school picture, Durrant always called him “the banker.” Interestingly enough, Johnson eventually became a prominent banker with Wells Fargo.
“I remembered Dad always made up nick names for the people he was photographing – since he didn’t usually know their name and had to instruct them how to pose,” Deborah Judd said. “Their “nick name” usually made them smile.”
Tom Durrant also noted that his father regularly attended local sports games to photograph the highlights.
“There was a gal in charge of a yearbook and she told me, I loved your dad because he made my job so easy,” Tom Durrant said.
Debra Judd remembers that her father was 55 years old when she was born. Interestingly enough, on her birth certificate it states that her father’s profession was a builder.
Despite her father’s advanced age when she was born, Deborah said she became very close to her father. “He never once let me think I was an unwelcome surprise,” she said.
“I loved taking my father to the doctor’s office because he would always “abbreviate” the health forms,” she said, adding that “He said ‘They don’t need to know all that stuff…besides, we’re paying cash!”
She also said that he “had a very extreme work ethic.” That work ethic also rubbed off on his children, because Deborah said her father was always having them work on something, whether it was pounding nails or shoveling coal into a boiler.
Thomas Porter Durrant was also very frugal.
Tom Durrant said his father never owed anybody a dime because he never borrowed money from anyone. The last car he owned, he drove it for 30 years. It was a 1968 model.
He was also a very private man, and never sought the limelight for any services he rendered. On his 90th birthday, Deborah placed a news item in the newspaper inviting patrons of Dixie Photo Shop to come visit her father at his business. When her father found out about the newspaper article, he wasn’t too pleased.
“He (Thomas Porter Durrant) didn’t always tell everything he knew about himself, adds Deborah, “but he was always true to himself. I think it was more that he didn’t like to tell more than was necessary. And, he never EVER dwelt on the past. He only lived in the day. He was eternally optimistic. He never complained about his health. ‘Every day above ground is a good day,’ he would say. He refused to talk about his death. I think it was just like him to be reticent and mysterious. It made us listen closer. Don’t we all wish we were that way now? There is just too much information on all of us out there.
Thomas Porter Durrant also liked telling tall tales, Deborah Judd said.
“Dad liked to stretch a story so if you heard it three or four times, it was probably true,” she said. “Dad used to tell stories about his travels that were just unbelievable. I remember the one about how he had driven his car clear to the North Pole and had met Santa. Really now, I ask you! Recently I came upon a Christmas card taken of dad in the 30’s with his old car parked by a vista of what looks to be a glacier. Sure enough, it was Alaska.”
While Deborah Judd and Tom Durrant acknowledge that their father was something of an enigma, they loved him dearly.
“He was a hero to me,” Deborah said. “He always had time for me. I adored him.”