By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
Thom was not the stand-up comic type. Rather, he was just the opposite. He did not stand out in the crowd. While he could carry a conversation with the best of people, he also was content to listen.
Thom’s humor came through his illustrations. In addition to serving as pastor of four Tennessee Baptist churches, including Oral Baptist in Lenoir City, where he served the last 19 years of his ministry, Thom was a cartoonist.
In 1997, the Baptist and Reflector ran his cartoon, “The Church of the Covered Dish,” for the first time. We only ran it once that year. In 1998 I assumed the role of editor and began to use Thom’s cartoons on a regular basis.
The Church of the Covered Dish was led by Pastor Eli Chortlesnort. The cartoon provided an honest look at Baptist churches, ministers, and laity through the lens of humor. Space prohibits printing several of his cartoons this week, but a sampling of his best cartoons can be found on baptistandreflector.org/thom.
In an interview with Thom in 1998, he shared that in 1987 he had a brain tumor removed. He recalled, “After that I didn’t know if I would ever do cartoons, or would have a sense of humor again.”
Fortunately, we were all blessed that both his humor and cartoons returned. He noted that the cartoons “became a vehicle for mental healing. It helped me not to take everything so seriously.”
Thom based his ministry through humor and cartoons on Proverbs 17:22, “A merry heart doeth good like medicine. …”
His humor lived through Bro. Eli. Thom took us through things that a minister (especially those who serve smaller churches) deals with on a daily basis. One of my favorites (and I have many) of his cartoons featured a Baptist layman standing outside the door that indicated it was the meeting of the “Committee on Putting Things Off,” something Baptists love to do.
As our friendship developed Thom often would provide special cartoons on request. Three of those are featured on this page. We ran the cartoon with Bro. Eli dragging the Christmas tree that made the shadow of the cross time and time again. Only once did someone complain about us featuring a Christmas tree. The person failed to see the cross.
Perhaps the cartoon that means the most to me is the one he did on request prior to the annual meeting of the Tennessee Baptist Convention in 1998 (above). For those who have been around a long time, that was primed to be a very contentious meeting. Thom’s cartoon illustrated how some messengers felt that year, but Bro. Eli kept it in perspective with his WWJD comment.
The third cartoon that he did just for us featured Baptist and Reflector Day. Thom was not only a personal friend. He loved the paper and the entire staff. He was also willing to do what he could to help us promote the paper.
As the years went by and costs of producing the paper increased and we had to decrease pages and even issues, we did not have the space to print Thom’s cartoons every week. Thom never complained. He understood and appreciated when we ran his cartoons.
Thom kept his humor intact despite facing numerous health problems the past few years. He was limited in what he could do, but he did attend last year’s Summit at First Baptist Church, Millington, and we were able to share a few minutes together. Despite some pain, Thom was upbeat and more concerned about me than himself. But that’s who he was and what he stood for.
Thom succumbed to liver cancer on June 11, but his memory will live on. Baptist Press still has his cartoons on their website and those who knew him well won’t forget his friendship and the love he had for his Lord and the people he served.
Pray for Thom’s wife Gail and his children and grandchildren. They will miss him most of all, but they can take comfort in knowing that when Thom walked through the pearly gates of heaven, he heard, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”