Orange County native
Thomas Newton Sparks was born in Orange, where his grandfather opened Spark’s Grocery. Newton went to Orange High School and attended VPI for two years.
He interrupted his schooling to serve in the Second World War. Newton became a First Lieutenant in the U.S. Armed Forces. He was a B-17 pilot and then a pilot instructor in the Army Air Corps.
A life in Orange
Newton met his future wife Emily Garnett in the 4th grade. She was born at Riverside, her family home near Locust Dale. They were married in the Orange Presbyterian Church in 1943. The couple returned to VPI, where Newton received a BS degree in Business. After graduation, they moved back to Orange. Newton joined Fray Insurance Agency and became co-owner.
Newton was very active in the community. He was Secretary of Orange County Electoral Board. He served on the Town Board of Zoning Appeals and the Orange Planning Commission. He was a Jaycee, as well as a charter member and past captain of the Rescue Squad. Newton was a Scout Master of Orange Troop 14, a member of the Orange Rotary Club and the American Legion Post 156.
Newton's service to OPC
Mary Emily Garnett joined OPC in March of 1934, along with her brother Seldon and sisters Susan, Frances, and twin, Nettie Lee. Newton was raised a Baptist, but he joined Emily as a member of Orange Presbyterian Church.
Newton actively served the church in many capacities. He taught Junior Boys for six years. He sponsored the Youth Fellowship with Emily. Newton was a Deacon and an Elder and also served on Presbytery Committees.
“Newton’s warmth and his sincere commitment are assets to our Session’s work.”
- Presbyterian Punch 1976
Newton was also deeply involved with the Men of the Church. He was in charge of the kitchen when they met for breakfasts, cooking for many many years. (Rumor has it he allowed no one to wash his seasoned skillet!)
Emily's service to OPC
Emily was also an active member of Orange Presbyterian Church all her adult life. She served with the Women of the Church (WOC) as, her mother, Nettie Mann Garnett did. Emily headed up the WOC’s Service Project for many years.
Fund-raisers included flea markets, parking lot sales, and mini-bazaars. The women offered services such as baking, transportation, sewing, and more. They sold notecards printed with a sketch of the new Sanctuary. The proceeds helped defray the principal of the Church’s building fund.
She was a member of the Night Circle of the WOC and served, at times, as chairman. Emily was one of the editors of the Presbyterian Punch for years. Emily was sometimes the kitchen chairman when the WOC held potluck supper meetings.
A life together
When they were not serving others, Newton and Emily enjoyed evenings with their friends. Lots of times they played bridge. Emily loved to knit and work crossword puzzles and jigsaw puzzles. Newton loved to fish. They religiously kept their tradition of family vacations at Nags Head every summer.
Newton Sparks passed away in 2002 and Emily Sparks passed away in 2003. Their son, Thomas Newton Sparks, Jr., passed away in 2021. They are survived by Thomas’ wife, Barbara; son Philip and wife, Julie; daughter Ann Garnett and husband, Chris Freed; and son Edward and wife Lisa. At the time of their death, they had nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Newton and Emily served our church for many years. Over that time they participated in many charitable and civic activities in Orange. We are grateful also for their friendship.
- Jennie Hill Robinson
OPC History Team