I have mixed emotions about Facebook – too much personal information shared, too much ranting, and too many unsubstantiated accusations. Yet, there are times when I see how this social networking tool can be a medium of profound benefit and use. Such was the case a few days ago.
This past Friday found me posting an update about my January blog posts. As usual, several folks responded with a note, an email, or a visit to the blog site. One message came from an unexpected source. A co-worker from 30 years ago, wanted to make me aware a former BellSouth colleague – Tommy Thompson – had just passed away.
I wouldn’t classify Tommy as a dear friend, either now or then. But our lives intersected in 1991 and oddly enough, again in 2020.
Tommy retired from BellSouth in 1991, and I was selected to backfill his position. Given his unique role as Chief of Staff to a Georgia Network Operations Vice President, I was asked to shadow Tommy for a couple of months prior to his retirement. I received a crash course in my new job assignment as well the opportunity to get to know this giant of a man nicknamed “Biscuit.” Tommy was 6’4” tall and weighed around 280-290 pounds. He joked that friends called him Biscuit, cause he was just a biscuit shy of 300 pounds. Tommy’s skill wasn’t in his written communications. He had an outgoing and oversized personality and knew intuitively how to communicate to managers at every level of the business. It was fascinating to see him up close as he discipled me in the nuances of supporting a VP, especially the hard-nosed, bullheaded, and grumpy one I was to inherit.
Over the past 30 years, I would occasionally see Tommy at a golf tournament, exchange a few pleasantries and catch up on life, both professionally and personally. While I was sad to hear of his passing, I was shocked to realize, upon reading his obituary, that his Saturday funeral was at his home church located not 15 minutes from my home. I had no idea he lived so close to me. I decided to go to the funeral, not out of any sense of obligation, but a desire to honor a rather unique individual I had known briefly some 30 years before.
I got more than I bargained for.
The Tommy I knew in 1991 never impressed me as a religious man. The Tommy buried on a sunny February morning in 2020 was not the same guy I knew in the 20th century. His brother David gave the eulogy, and his pastor provided a funeral sermon. The pastor’s message left no doubt that Tommy Thompson lived a life of vibrant and robust faith. He had become a Sunday School teacher and displayed a servant’s heart in his Appling, Georgia community. And he never shied away from sharing six words with people. “Jesus loves you” and “I love you” became a frequent refrain from his lips. His devotion to his wife Connie was a walking testimonial. Connie is suffering from Alzheimer’s, and Tommy’s care and attention were well known. His pastor recalled that though Connie had forgotten his name, she and Tommy had a daily routine when she first saw him each day. Tommy would ask, “Who am I?” and Connie would respond, “You’re my Man!” When they had a communion service, Tommy would gently serve her communion and explain in soft and tender words what she was receiving.
I was particularly struck by a song Tommy had requested to be played at his funeral. It was Casting Crown’s Loving My Jesus. The lyrics of the first two stanzas summed up Tommy’s past couple of decades.
I was a wandering soul Traveling a well worn road A sinner so far from home No second chance in sight I heard You call my name I felt You lift my shame And I made a vow that day That I'd spend the rest of my life Loving my Jesus Showing my scars Telling my story of how mercy Can reach You where You are And I pray the whole world hears The cry of my heart Is to see all the ones I love Loving my Jesus
I left the funeral ever so grateful that I chose to attend. I had the audacity to think I would be honoring an old colleague, never expecting that my soul would be the one blessed by the life of a man named Biscuit.
Tommy may have been a biscuit shy of 300 pounds, but he was never shy of telling folks that “Jesus loves you, and so do I.”
Thank you Biscuit. I heard you loud and clear.