Former Raleigh mayor Tomlinson remembered as visionary

Ex-mayor, 98, known for thinking ahead for city and in business

CorrespondentMay 15, 2012 

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WCOMISH9.MW.060595.TSS--The Travis Tomlinson speaks at a Wake County Commissioners public hearing on tax cuts. staff/scott sharpe

SCOTT SHARPE — 1995 NEWS & OBSERVER FILE PHOTO

  • Travis ‘Tommy’ Hocutt Tomlinson Born: Sept. 17, 1913 1931: Graduates from Garner High School. 1935-1942: Works for the Farm Security Administration. 1938: Graduates from NCSU with degree in education. 1942: Drafted into the Army and marries Margaret Gertrude Waddell. 1945: Discharged as a major, having earned a bronze star. 1945-1957: Works for Carolina Surgical Supply Co. 1957: Opens Mayview Convalescent Center. 1965-1969: Serves as mayor of Raleigh. 1968: News & Observer Tar Heel of the Week 1978: Formally retires from Mayview but remains involved in operations. 1984: Builds Whitaker Glen, an independent living facility. 2008: Wife, Margaret, dies after 66 years of marriage. 2009: Tomlinsons sell Mayview to a private corporation. Died: May 11, 2012

Travis “Tommy” Tomlinson, a former Raleigh mayor who helped calm the capital in the tense days after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., was remembered by hundreds of friends and family members Tuesday who gathered for his funeral at Hayes Barton United Methodist Church in Raleigh.

Tomlinson died last week at 98. He served on Raleigh’s City Council for eight years during a time when the council named the mayor. He was mayor from 1965 to 1969.

In the late 1940s while serving as vice president and general manager of Carolina Surgical Supply Company, Tomlinson saw a growing need for a place where the infirm elderly could have access to health care. He thought the need would grow as people were living longer, outliving their minds and bodies, and children were settling farther away from home, no longer able to care for aging parents.

In 1957, Tomlinson opened Mayview Convalescent Center – the seventh licensed nursing home in the state. There are now over 400.

“He was very future-thinking,” said his son, Travis Tomlinson Jr.

Tomlinson served as president and administrator of Mayview until his retirement in 1978. It was during that time that he served on the city council.

His mayoral legacy was that of a true public servant rather than a politician, friends and family said. During his tenure he had to handle the aftermath of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination as well as the demands of the city’s growth.

Tomlinson was raised in the rural community of Auburn, graduating from Garner High School before attending N.C. State University’s College of Education. Family lore has it he “met” his wife of 66 years, Margaret, when he heard her voice on a local radio station.

“Dad heard her singing and decided he was going to go after that girl,” said his younger son, Parker Tomlinson.

The two were wed in California prior to his deployment overseas. It was 1942, and he had been drafted by the U.S. Army and had attended officer training school for the artillery.

Tomlinson served in the Philippines, during which he had some close calls, and in that short time was promoted to the rank of major before his honorable discharge.

His time in the military likely helped him handle the tension that swelled throughout the city following the assassination of King. As mayor, once again thinking ahead of the curve, he had already established an emergency-preparedness plan should Raleigh be threatened by civil agitation.

“There was a lot of public unrest after that,” Travis Tomlinson Jr. said. “My dad didn’t come home for a couple of days. He slept at City Hall.”

The National Guard was called in immediately, and for the first time in Raleigh’s history, there was a curfew. Sons Travis and Parker recall a police scanner sitting on counter during dinner.

“I think he was generally well-respected for the calmness that he tried to bring to that situation from the standpoint of respecting everybody’s rights but understanding that if we weren’t under a rule of law, then nobody won,” Travis Tomlinson Jr. said.

Investing for growth

During his two terms as mayor he was considered quite popular, said Smedes York, a former mayor of Raleigh and longtime friend of Tomlinson.

“I just think when you say Travis Tomlinson positive feelings come out,” York said.

“He understood that you have to make investments in a city that is growing,” York said. “You can’t go about things without a progressive outlook in a city such as Raleigh.”

Tomlinson carried that progressive attitude into his operations at Mayview. Though it would take years to be constructed, Tomlinson knew an independent living retirement community would be a real asset, and made sure in his purchasing agreements with the county that enough land be included in the deal for future plans.

In 1984, Whitaker Glen, an independent living facility adjacent to Mayview, was constructed. The two were eventually combined to create Continuing Care Retirement Community.

During his years selling surgical equipment – which involved numerous visits to boarding houses, nursing homes and hospital wings – the one thing in common was a particularly offensive odor. He was determined that sanitation at Mayview would be top notch.

“That’s one of the things that everyone always said about Mayview – it did not smell like a nursing home,” said Sandra Aikens, administrative assistant at Mayview since 1997.

Pushed for regulations

Early in his career, it was clear nursing facilities were not regulated with any consistency, and therefore the quality of care could differ widely. During his career he lobbied for greater regulation of nursing homes.

Tomlinson’s wife eventually spent her final years as a resident at Mayview. After he was widowed, he would frequent the facility for meals and as a place he could safely socialize. At that point he had dementia, but Mayview was so familiar to him it felt like home, colleagues said.

He spent the last few years as a full-time resident at Mayview as well, affectionately called “Mr. T.”

And for all he accomplished professionally and as an elected official, his family said maintaining a balance between home and work was easy for him.

“He was definitely not a workaholic,” Parker Tomlinson said.

Many of their fondest family memories took place at the house he built on Kerr Lake in the 1960s. “He worked hard when it was time to work, and he enjoyed himself when it wasn’t.”

About six hours before his death, new great-granddaughter Margaret Willis was brought to his bedside. “Everything he was ever interested in, it was about caring,” Travis Tomlinson Jr. said.

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