PARIS, France – The dateline has nothing to do with the forthcoming subject matter—except that this happens to be where I landed after hearing the depressing news that one of the most loyal aficionado’s of Athens and the University of Georgia had passed away.
As I try to bring worthy and regarded praise to Tom Strickland in one of the most exciting cities in the world, there are guilt feelings emanating as I try to balance the enjoyment of a fun-laced trip with sympathy for the departure of a long and valued friend.
One of the meaningful residuals for a state university is that so many volunteer ambassadors give of themselves on behalf of the institution. Tom Strickland had deep and abiding loyalty and affection for UGA and Athens. He was always jumping on the bandwagon to celebrate any success or recognition that came about for two of his greatest loves — after his charming wife, Margret. Once he got on the bandwagon, he never got off.
Tom was always trying to marry up principals of influence on behalf of the Classic City and the university. If it was good enough for UGA, it was good enough for Tom. If it was good enough for the community, it was good enough for this sanguine former Marine who only fussed about shortcomings that shortchanged his favorite institutions.
A long time employee of Southern Bell — a corporate name out of the past — one of the saddest days of his life came when he was transferred to Atlanta, via promotion, years ago. Restitution was gratefully restored when he was brought back, returning with a vengeance and the promise he would do his best to do more for UGA and the community.
Tom joined the Rotary Club with a bent for making a difference. He was president of the Touchdown Club of Athens. He worked tirelessly for the Community Chest and the Boy Scouts. He was one of the first donors to the UGA President’s club. He told of his commitment to friends, not seeking a praiseworthy response, but a seconding of the motion. If he gave, that meant they should join him. If giving back were like business, Tom would have prospered handsomely with finder’s fees.
When he finally retired, he couldn’t retire. He kept on reaching out on behalf of the Boy Scouts and other community causes and organizations such as the University of Georgia Chapter of the National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame.
Through the years, Tom served as the unofficial Athens town crier. When somebody did something good locally, Tom made sure that everybody knew.
When he had a secretary, he sent notes to any and all who brought credit and tribute to his university and his community. Then the cell phone, a treasured connection to his long time business affiliation, became his personal best friend. If your name was printed in the paper for a good deed, Tom was probably the first one to ring you up with a “verbal pat on the back.” If you were given to altruism, Tom would likely be aware and would sing your praises for your selfless deeds.
His long-time friend, Bill Simpson, who has been the beneficiary of both Strickland’s goodwill and practical jokes, was almost too broken up to talk when I reached him by phone after hearing the lamentable news.
“He meant so much to our community and to me personally,” Simpson said. “This is very, very hard emotionally. My loss is most personal, and anybody who knew him is aware of how much he meant to so many in Athens. Nobody loved the University of Georgia more.”
That is not prose for the ages, but about as sincere and appropriate as there could be for Tom Strickland who was always in a high five mode for anybody who put the University of Georgia and his beloved hometown of Athens first.