‘Thank you, Mister Tommy’
Tommy Ricketts passed away Sunday, May 5, 2013. Dothan Magazine featured a story about his life and legacy of volunteer service in our Sept/Oct 2007 issue. We’re republishing our story this morning in honor of his memory.
story by Jeanne Sigler
Tommy Ricketts is a self-made man. From his earliest childhood days in Lamison, Alabama, he has always been an enterprising individual possessing a strong work ethic. Although his formal work days have long since elapsed, that doesn’t stop Ricketts from being one of Dothan’s most well known volunteers, always selflessly giving his own time.
Born December 24, 1917, the second of eleven children, this near-nonogenarian has no intention of giving up his service any time soon. “I have a saying I live by,” says Ricketts. “Here I am, Lord. Send me.”
Some have called Ricketts Dothan’s number one full-time volunteer. His favorite projects include service with the Dothan Area Botanical Gardens, Landmark Park, Rotary Club, Kiwanis Club, Wiregrass Area Food Bank, The Alabama-Florida Council of Boy Scouts and his home church, Dothan First United Methodist.
Over the years, he has served on a number of boards and committees. He served as Chapter Chairman for two years with the Wiregrass Area Red Cross.
As The Botanical Gardens on-site developer, he obtained materials and saw each job to completion. This meant getting his own hands dirty. “I do what I can,” says Ricketts, humbly.
In 1990, along with his longtime friend and business associate, the late Frank Martin, Jr., they founded the Wiregrass Area Food Bank. “Having worked with the Wiregrass United Way, I realized there was a need for a local food bank,” remembers Ricketts. “So, Frank and I visited the Montgomery facility and got things going to start the Dothan extension.” Since that time, the Wiregrass Area Food Bank has served and continues to serve hundreds of local agencies that feed thousands of needy recipients.
Ricketts, who was born and raised in Wilcox County, Alabama, doesn’t recall a time when he wasn’t working. “I started my working career as a millwright in my Daddy’s mill for 25 cents an hour,” remembers Ricketts. “He always told me that he’d teach me all he knew, but I’d have to get a higher education if I wanted to learn more than just mill work.”
A couple of years after graduating high school in 1935, on a National Youth Aid Scholarship, Ricketts boarded a bus and traveled to Gadsden, Alabama where he attended the Alabama School of Trades, earning a certificate in Electricity.
The first Sunday in his new surroundings, Ricketts made it a point to attend church. “My parents reminded me that I needed to find a church right away, so I began attending East Gadsden Methodist. That’s where I met Ruth Pounds,” referring to his wife of 67 years. “I remember looking up at the choir and seeing the prettiest girl I had ever laid my eyes on. I took her on a date to see ‘Gone With The Wind.’” Ricketts served faithfully at East Gadsden Methodist in the choir, drama club, youth group, and as assistant scout master.
Before accepting a sales manager position with Mack Electric and settling in Dothan in 1957, Ricketts and his family’s travels took them to Birmingham and Andalusia, Alabama, and Madison, Wisconsin. He also served in the National Guard as well as working as an instructor at the Air Force Technical Training School.
In the world of business, Ricketts later founded Tri-States Electrical Supply and Dothan Cylinder Gas. He credits Christ and his friends and family for all the blessings throughout his life. “None of my accomplishments would have been possible without them,” says Ricketts. He and his wife Ruth have three children, six grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren. Unfortunately, they tragically lost their 41-year-old son to cancer. “It was a tough time, but the Lord got us all through it,” exclaims Ricketts.
Among Ricketts’ accolades are countless awards and honors for outstanding service in the Wiregrass community. Some of these include Boy Scouts of America Silver Beaver and Eagle Honoree Awards, Rotary Club Paul Harris Fellowship Award, Wiregrass Area Food Bank Appleheart Award, American Red Cross Eva Posey Volunteer of the Year Award, and Landmark Foundation Service Award.
In 2006, he was granted the Jefferson Award for outstanding volunteerism, and traveled to Washington D.C. to accept his honor. “It was really exciting, and I was very humbled,” says Ricketts.
This past July, Ricketts was named Honoree at the Wiregrass Area Golden Eagle Dinner for the Alabama-Florida Council of Boy Scouts.
Turning 90 won’t deter Tommy Ricketts from his active lifestyle. His calendar is always full and he’s continuously doing good. “When I need help getting a job done, I call Mr. Tommy,” says Wiregrass Area Food Bank Assistant Director Shirley Henderson. “He is such a blessing!”
How does he manage to keep up the pace and keep his life in balance? “Well, I make sure I keep my mind and body active with a little hard work,” remarks Ricketts, “and a lot of faith thrown in.”