Remembering a friend…


By Bill Derby, Publisher

The 1959 Elementary school Midget League Basketball Champions North Side Elementary. Front row, from the left, are: Bobby Archer, Steve Cook, Guy Blackwell, Ross Spears, Sam Harding and Wayne Copp. Second Row: Carl Young, Blain Shoun, Ronnie Benfield, Bill Derby, Tommy Thomas and Chippie Whitehead (holding MVP trophy). Back Row: Tony Martin, Ronnie Cook, Matt Tucker, Jimmy Thompson and Coach George Watts.

“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die” – Thomas Campbell, Scottish Poet

My friend Tommy Thomas died last week from COVID-19 after struggling seven days on a ventilator. I was not aware he was even in the hospital. We became good friends in the sixth grade at North Side Elementary. After moving here from Kingsport he was the first to befriend me when I walked into my new classroom. As always, he made some kind of joke about the new guy in class. We all laughed.

As we age, the death of close friends is no surprise but is still a heartbreak. My Army buddy, a friend for 50 years, died three weeks ago after fighting cancer 14 years from Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam.

Tommy had brought me this photo to publish about six months ago. Tommy and I both loved sports. During his school years he became a football star helping win many a game for Science Hill. We both loved to play basketball and won the elementary championship seen in the team photo. We again won the Johnson City Church League championship playing for Munsey during high school. During the championship game we both scored 15 points each. Memories live a lifetime. RIP dear friend.

Many of you will know some of the young men in the photo. Some are still around while others are gone or we don’t know where they live.

As a side note, Coach Watts played for the Washington Redskins 1942 NFL Championship team as an offensive lineman. And when Coach Watts talked we listened, or else. I remember a rear-end wallop I received during gym one day when I didn’t want to square dance with a certain girl. As best I remember Tommy received one too. We danced.


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