Senior Staff Writer
Lewisburg businessman Thomas Hale "Tommy" Hawkins III died unexpectantly Thursday morning. He was 68.
Hawkins was the patriarch of Lewisburg Printing, which he turned over to his three children several years ago. He was publisher of the Lewisburg Tribune and the Marshall County Gazette, which he sold in 2005. And he was a founder of First Commerce Bank where he remained active until his passing Thursday morning.
He is remembered as a "good father, grandfather and husband," according to a statement from the family. "He will be missed beyond words."
Bills-McGaugh Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements. They were incomplete Thursday. Hawkins died while on vacation in Aruba. Reportedly, the cause was a heart attack.
Hawkins is survived by: his wife of more than 45 years, Patricia; a daughter, Re Kelso; and two sons, Hale and Tim Hawkins. His Lewisburg Printing associates considered him family and he did them.
Born Dec. 28, 1943, Hawkins was the son of Thomas Hale Hawkins Jr. of Lewisburg and the former Miss Marie McGlasson of Shelbyville.
Hawkins made his home at Collins Hollow Road.
Bill Marsh, chairman, president and CEO of First Commerce remembers a statement from his friend that substantiates a conversation recalled by Terry Wallace - the county executive and mayor here for 16 years - who quoted Hawkins to illustrate the nature of the man that was Tommy Hawkins.
"Tommy, Dean Delk and I always went to the TSSAA tournament in Murfreesboro," Wallace said. "The last year we were over there, we were eating at a restaurant at 8 a.m., just sitting around joking. Somebody had died, or something had gone wrong. I don't know how we got on the subject, but he just up and said, 'We'll, I'll tell you what, if I do pass before you, you just tell everybody that Tommy Hawkins had a good life. I've enjoyed my life.'
"That's verbatim, exactly what he said," Wallace said of Hawkins who he called a best friend.
Marsh remembers substantially the same thing.
"'I will have lived a fine life to the fullest,'" is what Marsh heard Hawkins say when he was with him under different circumstances.
"We're stunned about our friend Tommy," Marsh said. "He was nice to everyone. He took care of all the employees there" at the businesses he owned.
"When someone was hurt, or down and out on their luck with medical issues or something, Tommy was always the first one there," Marsh said. "He'd take care of them straight out of his pocket. I've seen him fork it out of his pocket if they needed help."
Hawkins was instrumental in the organization of First Commerce Bank and remained an active member of the board of directors, serving on the executive committee and the human resources committee.
"He was always supportive of our bank management team," Marsh said. "He was the most gracious person I've ever known. I'll miss him. We're all saddened.
"He's done some farming, but they were mainly in the printing and the newspaper publishing business," Marsh said. "His father, Thomas Hale, and his father's brother, Hawk Hawkins, owned the papers and the printing business."
Hawkins closed his sale of the Tribune and the Gazette on Sept. 30, 2005 to Rust Communications. Hugh Jones, publisher of the succeeding paper, the Marshall County Tribune, and its sister newspaper, the Shelbyville Times-Gazette, recalls the purchase arrangements went smoothly.
Hawkins was "always easy to get along with," Jones recalled of the business relationship that culminated with the sale that was announced with acknowledgement of Hawkins' "strong home town loyalty. He had a good sense of humor mixed with a smart head for business.
"I knew of his quality commercial printing business from my time in commercial printing," Jones said. "He's remembered as a strong family man. His passing is a great loss for the whole family, obviously."
County Commissioner Dean Delk, principal of Chapel Hill Elementary School, said his close friend "supported county-wide athletics from preschoolers all the way through high school. He followed athletics very closely and he was a die-hard UT supporter and he didn't mind showing it."
"I'm a Vanderbilt fan and he's a UT fan," Wallace said. "We used to have a little wager. He wouldn't bet with me this year. After this last game, I started to call him but I knew he was in Aruba."
Lewisburg Printing staff grieved Thursday morning.
"Tommy always had a smile on his face when he came in," Lewisburg Printing Operations Director Brian Tankersley said. "He was always asking how everyone was doing. He's family. We're all family here, so we're in a state of shock."
Hawkins transferred ownership and operational control of Lewisburg Printing to his three children.
While he was technically retired, "Tommy was here quite a bit. It's a loss you can't quite express in words."
Hawkins' annual vacation was in Aruba.
"That's why it's so unexpected," Tankersley said. "We're here tending the business, so the family can have their time."
Still, "Tommy was a father figure to a lot of the people here," Tankersley said.
Lewisburg Printing personnel director Cathy Talley was Hawkins' personal secretary.
"I think we're in a state of shock," Talley said. "He's such a great guy.
"I've worked for the company for 35 years in April and for 30 of those I was his personal secretary and the main part of any of our conversations revolved around our children. He was so very proud of his kids and grandkids.
"I don't know as if I've ever known anyone who loved life as much as he did."
County Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett said, "Tommy was a very congenial type person. I never saw him when he didn't have a smile on his face. He had a very positive attitude."
Hawkins' friend, Delk, said he was "a very fair man who saw good in everybody. His heart was a big as he was. He was a very giving person. He was fun to be around because he was always up-beat."
Delk's son, David, said Hawkins "helped me out professionally and on a friendship level. My family and I consider him a great man and a great friend. He will be missed by everyone."
Since the printed version of this tribute to Hawkins was sent to the press, more comments have been received and are as follows.
"Few people are ever so blessed as to have someone outside of their family be a source of positive influence in their lives. I was so blessed," Greg Lowe said.
Lowe was the editor of the Lewisburg and Marshall County newspapers when they were purchased by Rust Communications. he is now the city's economic development director.
"Tommy Hawkins cared for me as one of his own, as the father of two of my oldest and dearest friends, Hale and Re," Lowe said. "He scolded me, he encouraged me, he enlightened me, he mentored me and he provided for me in ways that to this day I will never know.
"During a time in my life when I didn't deserve but so desperately needed an opportunity to better myself, Tommy Hawkins gave me that opportunity by hiring me at the Marshall Gazette and Lewisburg Tribune. My gratitude for this, pitiful as it was, was to do my very best so as not to disappoint him and not to disgrace this act of kindness.
"I will never be given the opportunity now to thank him enough -- even though there was no way to ever thank him enough.
"There are many lives like mine, some who have passed before him and many who still remain, that owe some measure of gratitude to him for all he has done.
"Lewisburg has lost a lion -- one whose stance and mere presence carried louder than its roar," Lowe said.
Rhonda Poole is another former editor of the newspapers.
"I'll always remember that, even though Tommy was a serious businessman, he was a generous soul and had a smile that could brighten a cloudy day," Poole said.
"I'll always love him for giving me the chance to experience one of my dreams as a writer, and he'll always have a special place in my heart for allowing me to be the editor of The Lewisburg Tribune/Marshall Gazette.
"Tommy told me once that when I win the Pulitzer to remember him. Pulitzer or not, I will never forget Tommy Hawkins. He will certainly be missed," Poole said.
Marshall County Circuit Court Clerk Elinor Brandon Foster grew up with Hawkins.
"He's like a brother to me; just a wonderful person," she said.
Foster, Hawkins and her brother, Judge Roger Brandon, grew up together at First Presbyterian Church, were classmates at all the county schools, "and we went to Murfreesboro as freshmen," she said.
Hawkins continued to take an interest in local news and news reporting well after the paper was run by others.