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Wed, Apr 23, 2014

Sharing Thoughts: Tommy Martin’s disposition earned title, ‘Mr. Murfreesboro’

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I began working at the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce in July 1986, which was then located in Cannonsburgh Village. Although a relatively small building with about 1,000 square feet, it had plenty of room for me and two ladies who worked there. Besides, one of the ladies only worked part time.

My routine has always been to arrive early and stay later than closing time. On my first day, the telephone rang around 7:15 a.m. A little surprised that someone would call before normal office hours, which began at 8 o’clock, I snapped up the phone and tried to sound pleasant, “Good morning … Chamber of Commerce … this is Ralph Vaughn.”

The voice on the other end responded, “I’m calling to congratulate you on the new job … and to say thank you for what I believe you’ll do for all of us.”

Grateful, but trying to figure out who was calling, I said, “Thank you … but you know that I’ll need your help and lots of support from many others.”

“This is Tommy Martin,” he said, “And I believe that the next 15 years will be the best ever. We have a good city, a good county, good leadership, good schools, good teachers and a lot of good folks to support you and the Chamber of Commerce.”

That was the beginning of a wonderful friendship with a man whom many referred to as “Mr. Murfreesboro.” In the years to follow, I never heard a negative comment or anything less than flattering from his lips. Obviously, his glass was always half-full and every cloud had a silver lining.

There were many times when he and I broke bread at one of the local eateries. It was difficult to finish a thought or eat a meal because of the constant flow of fellow diners who wanted to speak to him or shake his hand. He usually gave them a pencil or an emery board before they stepped away from our table.

His jolly laugh was contagious, and his many stories were never boring although I heard them numerous times over the years. Tommy was always a Good Samaritan.

He once came across a stranded motorist, a lady whose automobile was on the brink. Tommy stopped and offered to help. A little reluctant to accept assistance from a stranger, she at first declined. I suppose Tommy’s sweet and charming personality must have shown that he really was interested in helping.

The problem was solved, and in the process, I’m sure he must have given her a pencil or an emery board. At any rate, the damsel in distress turned out to be a wealthy heiress of the Mars Candy Company. His kind deed resulted in the lady purchasing from Tommy a $1,000,000 life insurance policy through Mutual of New York, a company that Tommy represented for more than 50 years, setting all kinds of sales records. MONY even named Tommy Martin as one of the company’s all-time legends.

My two other favorite Tommy Martin stories involve the Chamber of Commerce and industrial recruiting. He and a small group of government and business leaders were to make a presentation to State Farm Insurance. Tommy told how the group was waiting in the lobby to see State Farm decision makers. Tommy quietly excused himself, went to the restroom, got on his knees and prayed for wisdom. His prayer was answered. State Farm came to Murfreesboro and is today one of our leading companies.

The other one is about General Electric. After GE agreed to locate a manufacturing plant in Murfreesboro, the Chamber held a reception at the Stones River Country Club to welcome GE officials who were to make the formal announcement. Being the spokesman for the local group, Tommy introduced a young actor from California who brought greetings on behalf of General Electric.

Years later, that actor became the 40th President of the United States of America. After the Inauguration, Tommy sent him a congratulatory letter and reminisced about that day in Murfreesboro. Tommy got a response from President Ronald Reagan, who recalled the occasion with fondness and expressed appreciation for Tommy’s friendship. The President’s letter was framed and hung on Tommy’s wall.

I’m sure that many readers also have other wonderful stories about “Mr. Murfreesboro”, Tommy Martin.
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