Tommy Hicks was born 66 years ago today.
The iconic sports writer, publisher, risk taker, friend of the underdog, teacher, counselor, and hilarious jokester passed September 26, 2017 but the impact of his life rolls on, including into the paper you are reading.
From 1992 until 2002, he published The Amazin' Shopper which became Rutherford Weekly. He has been inducted into the sports halls of fame of both East Rutherford High School and Rutherford County.
On October 13, 2017 the Town of Forest City celebrated Tommy Hicks Day at East Rutherford High School, including a speech by Forest City Mayor Steve Holland who praised his work as a substitute teacher and friend to so many East students.
One of Hicks's lifelong friends overheard somebody ask, "Who the heck is Tommy Hicks?" while on his way to the October celebration. A fist fight was narrowly avoided. Actually the guy didn't say "heck," but this is a family paper.
Diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy at nine, the outrageous and amazin' character never let the disease define him. He still had a killer foul shot in basketball into his teens and beyond; and could beat almost anybody at ping pong well into his 60's. He also had a putting green in his office and would challenge visitors to try to output him.
He was once soundly defeated at ping pong by N.C. State legendary basketball player Tommy Burleson whose long arms allowed him to return Hicks's signature shot off the edge of the ping pong table.
Randy Herring remembers being a youngster on Richard Green's Little League team. Their season got off to a rocky start; and their coach asked Hicks to talk with the guys. They started winning.
Did Hicks talk about batting and fielding? Did he give advice on tactics?
"No," Herring said. "He just told us we could do it."
Former East football coach, David Smith, recalls carrying him piggyback as the two of them were headed to a Charlotte Hornets game.
"He was starting to lose strength in his hands; and he lost his grip," Smith said. He fell hard against the driveway, but Smith recalled he said, "Get me up! Get me up! I'm gonna be sore for the next couple of weeks, but I'm going to that ballgame."
Despite being confined to a wheelchair at 23, he did not start taking disability income until he was well into his 50's. He worked as a substitute teacher who former East Principal Connie Mack Hamrick remembers as an inspiring teacher who had great rapport with the kids.
Hamrick said he not only had great knowledge of whatever subject he taught, but could engage kids about sports, current events, just about everything.
Former East teacher, coach and insurance agent, Billy Joe Davis, remembers him as a dogged salesman. When Hicks became publisher of The Amazin' Shopper in 1992, Davis said, "I couldn't imagine how he could sell those ads. I told him that; and then when he bought Tommy's Taxi, he asked me what he should do. I told him I couldn't see him running one business, why did he ask my advice about running two?"
Hicks had a huge and encouraging cadre of friends including but not limited to: Smith, Hamrick, Davis, Keith Harrill, Debra Gibson Haney, Burwell Byers, Sherry A. Allen, Dr. Tim Luckadoo, Danny Philbeck, June Biggerstaff Childers, Randy Oliver, Chris Riegert, Ricky Robbins, Becky Hunt Carson, Lynn Whisnant, Ben and Tim Roach, Teresa Price, Boyce Hart, Johny (who spells his name with one "n") Carson, Penny Albert and her family, Mike Nanney, Russ Horn, and dozens more.
His nephew Patrick Bridges called him, "The best at everything."
His three sisters: Mary Springman, Linda Bridges and Laura Thomas and their families were devoted to him and still miss him, as do the dozens of friends who believe he symbolized the best in Rutherford County and beyond.
The Forest City Jaycees awarded him its Distinguished Service Award and the Forest City Kiwanis Club named him Citizen of The Year in 2018, the first time the award was given posthumously.
While he collected many awards, honors, and trophies for service to the Muscular Dystrophy Association and others, his hallmarks were his humor and his unfailing encouragement to individuals.
When Luckadoo applied to a high administrative job at N.C. State, he told Hicks he was worried about a long interview process and tough competition. Hicks became quite animated and stressed, "You can get that job, Luck. I'd bet my house on it. Be aggressive and show 'em what you got."
He often met with young people who had been diagnosed with MD and told them they could accomplish anything they set their minds to, not to let the disease define them.
He was a great person of faith and often prayed with visitors in his home. He was also a fanatic sports fan and often used words during ball games that didn't sound much like prayers.
His love of mischief and humor could often be found in the pages of The Amazin' Shopper. Ray Rice remembers with fondness the imaginary matches Hicks would concoct among Rice, Chuck Norris and local folks like Mike Nanney. The bouts never took place but Rice clipped the stories and has them displayed in his Main Street school for martial arts.
Nanney, who often spent hours with him on the phone discussing sports and current events, said he did not have to die to meet an angel. He credited Carson with being an attending angel in caring for the guy who loved to call himself, "The Big Man."
One of his favorite jokes was to tell the staff at The Amazin' Shopper that they had to call him "Big Man," at least seven times every day. They often did.
He had local merchants abducted by aliens, reported Elvis sightings, and never failed to haunt Halloween with his taxi driver, Billy Ray Frashier's annual trip to Dead Man's Cave. He once had Frashier do battle with the Abdominal Snowman. No, not the Abominable Snowman, but the Abdominal Snowman.
Also when Billy Ray would conquer some monster or other challenge along his routes, Hicks would have him dance a celebratory dance along the side of the road.
If a dancing taxi driver cutting up along the side of the road brings a smile, imagine a small, battery operated Santa doll that would come to life in his living room as soon as anybody got close enough to activate his sensors. As the doll danced and exclaimed "ho, ho, ho," some folks would jump from the scare. Hicks hooted with laughter.
Among his dearest friends were Frieda Sellers and her family. She said of Hicks, "He had an infinite capacity for love."
Jan Sailors, lay-out and design guru of Rutherford Weekly worked with him for many years and said of him that he had made such a difference in her life, had made her, in part, who she is today.
There have been many such tributes and others can be found in Heart On Wheels, Amazin' Stories From The Life Of Tommy Hicks 1954-2017 on sale in local stores or by contacting Pat Jobe at firstname.lastname@example.org.