Posted on May 15, 2017
I write this blog with a heavy heart, as we have recently learned that our friend and fellow colleague, Tom Corder, passed away recently!! I will try to convey to you the type of person Tom was by telling you about the last trip I took with Tom in the summer of 2015. In about January of 2015, I received a call from Tom. He informed me that, in the summer, he was taking the Youth Group from his Church in Wilmington, NC on a Mission trip to Dallas, TX . He said that it would be a one bus move, but needed two drivers so they could drive straight through. He said, "Because of your experience, teaching and coaching, I thought you'd be great with the kids. Would you be willing to go and drive with me?" I said, "Tom, I'd love to, and I'm very honored that you would ask me to go!"
We have drivers from various walks of life, but Tom was a little different. After his time in the Military, Tom went back to school at NC State and graduated with a degree in Civil Engineering and went to work with the Army Corp of Engineers in Wilmington, NC. Upon retirement, Tom quickly grew bored. Because he drove a bus for his church, he thought he'd try his hand at driving a Motorcoach. Tom then went to work with Holiday Tours. Living in Wilmington, 180 miles away, Tom often stayed in the Bunkhouse at Holiday prior to driving trips. One day I asked him, "Tom why in the world do you come all the way from Wilmington to drive a bus?" It didn't take long talking with Tom to realize he was very much a "People Person"! He had an infectious enthusiasm for being engaged with people, and he loved driving people on their trips! Tom grew up in Elkin, NC which is in the foothills of our Blue Ridge Mountains, but had been in Wilmington long enough to call it home.
When I arrived, with my bus, at his Church, in Wilmington, I immediately picked up on how important these young people were to Tom. It was easy to see how much he cared about them and how much they admired Tom! We were soon loaded and ready to roll with Tom behind the wheel first. There were many parents and Tom's lovely wife, Lois, there to wave goodbye and wish us well on our journey! This trip was about nine days long, as I remember. Tom was "Old School"! He did not use a GPS! He thought they made the driver lazy! Tom used paper maps and was very detailed in his preparation! When I got behind the wheel, I hooked up my GPS and Tom asked, "If that thing quits working, would you know where you're going?" I said, "Not a clue," but holding up my cellphone, I said, "I've got a backup!" Upon arrival in Dallas, we took the youth group to a "Whataburger"! It was a great burger, but what I remember most was a delightful little lady for another country who spoke very little English.
Although there was a language barrier, her smile and expressions communicated volumes!
We dropped the kids at a Baptist Church where they would be staying, and Tom and I departed for our hotel miles away. Each morning we would arrive about 7:30, pick kids up and take them to job sites where they were doing repair work on a elderly people's homes. We would then return to the hotel until time to pick them up after 4:00 pm. A few afternoons we would take the group to visit important places in and around Dallas. One afternoon we went to the Dallas Cowboy's Stadium in Arlington, TX. We had a private tour of the Stadium! Wow!!! It is the Taj Mahal of Stadiums!
It cost one billion dollars to build! I've never been a Cowboy fan, but this place was impressive! We visited the players' locker room, luxury box suites, concession areas, with artwork and tile picked out personally by Owner Jerry Jones's wife, the Cowboy Player Wall of Fame and even the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders' locker room (no they weren't in there!!)! The kids, Tom, and I even got to go on the playing field and and throw footballs!! One morning, after we dropped the kids at their job sites, Tom and I decided to go tour the home of JR Ewing, at Southfork Ranch! That was a real thrill for both of us since we were both fans of JR! I got a good picture of Tom on the main staircase of the house. It was interesting to find out that the house and ranch had belonged to a real family who had given permission for it to be used as the site for the TV drama series, Dallas! I enjoyed seeing the paintings of the Ewing family patriarch, Jock Ewing and his, conniving, son JR! Tom and I had a great lunch of Texas Barbecue and great conversation at the Ranch that day! Riding with Tom was an education in itself! He would point out road and bridge structures and explain how and why they were engineered!
The city of Dallas has always held great fascination for me because of the assassination of President Kennedy. That day, as with anyone alive then, is blazed in my memory. I was home sick, with pneumonia, from my third grade class, on that day. My dad had come home for lunch. My mother had gone out to the driveway with my dad when Walter Cronkite came on with the bulletin that the President had been shot. I ran to the door and yelled the news. My parents came back in and we were all glued to the TV. About thirty minutes later, Mr. Cronkite gave the nation the shocking news that the President had died! On our trip, one afternoon was free for the youth group, so we took them to the Sixth Floor Museum, at the Texas Book Depository, where Lee Harvey Oswald fired the shots that hit President Kennedy and Texas Governor John Connally. It was a surreal feeling to look out the window, seeing Oswald's view, down to the X that marks the spot where the shot hit the President! All those memories came flooding back!! I knew these kids couldn't have the same feelings that I was experiencing, but I hoped that they got a sense of the historical significance of this place!
We just happened to drive by the movie theater that Lee Harvey Oswald ducked into after the shooting! It was here that police found Oswald! Amazingly the theater still operates today and talk about irony--look at what movie was playing when we drove by!! A Perfect Shot!!
Another interesting side trip, was to the Fort Worth stockyards! It gives one the feeling of being in the Old West and the kids really seemed to enjoy it! Tom and I enjoyed another great meal of genuine Texas BBQ Brisket and more great conversation! Tom filled me in on the history behind the Stockyards. Listening to Tom was like having a History Professor right in front of you!!
On our return trip home, we stopping in Monroe, LA to visit the Duck Commander, the site of the hit TV show, Duck Dynasty! Tom didn't waste his time with much TV! I got a kick out of the fact that I had to explain what the show was to him!! He didn't even know who Uncle Si was! I got another great picture of Tom at the Buck Commander!!
Tom Corder, who recently passed away at age 75 after a battle with cancer, was a friend and a mentor for me and others at Holiday Tours. He taught me valuable life lessons on that trip to Dallas! Tom was a man of class and integrity. One thing that impressed me was the fact that he always left a tip for hotel maids! It had never occurred to me that I should tip the maids. I wish I could say I had done that before, but because of Tom, I think more about tipping people who give us services! Tom also talked lovingly and with much pride about his family! His wife. Lois, who was there to see us off and there when we drove back into the parking lot, was always on his mind! He was very, very proud of his son, Wes Corder, and he beamed with pride as he told me about him! The importance of family was always on display with Tom! Tom was the true definition of a "People Person"! His passengers were his extended family and he covered all bases to give the passenger a pleasant experience! He was also very dedicated to his church and his faith. The youth were so important to him! He had high hopes for their future successes!!! Tom Corder is missed by many and we at Holiday Tours miss our friend very much! We, as a group, strive to carry on his legacy of dedication and service to our customers! I hope you will join us for a trip soon and create long lasting memories of your own!
Author: Ray Groseclose
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