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January 23, 2007

Tom Mills, R.I.P.

John W. Ashbury

The higher ups in Heaven must have needed a refresher course on West Virginia as Tom Mills was called home last week.

Whenever you had a conversation with him there was always something said to promote his home state, a place he loved almost as much as he did Frederick County. We can't say the same thing about the entire state of Maryland. West Virginia was home in more ways than one might think.

Tom was born in Morgantown in 1927. He never forgot the mountains, the coal mines, which claimed his father's life when Tom was but 18 months old, the education he received at West Virginia University after his service to his country in World War II, nor the newspaper which gave him his first job.

It was as a newspaperman that Tom found his niche. It was a career he loved. And the mark he left on countless hundreds of others in the field simply cannot be measured. He was the consummate professional, seldom raising his voice in anger. He let people know they had his support. When they were wrong, he told them so - but always privately and calmly, with an air of confidence in what he was saying.

He wouldn't back down from a fight. He just attacked from an unexpected perspective which often unsettled his opponents.

Back in late 1968 George B. Delaplaine, Jr., then the publisher of The Frederick Post and The News, needed help in the newsroom. He called his friend Tom, who was working in Morgantown, and asked if he knew of someone who could come to Frederick and be the managing editor of both newspapers.

About a week later, Mr. Delaplaine was surprised to find Tom in his office ready to go to work.

It wasn't long before Tom himself needed help with the afternoon paper. He made a similar call to his old college roommate and colleague at the Dominion News in Morgantown. In short order Bill Boord was sitting at a desk on East Patrick Street as the editor of The News.

Tom and Bill were friends in the best sense of that word. Since college they shared most everything. And the reunion was special, not only for them, but for Frederick, as the newspapers prospered and improved. Their friendship grew even stronger. They liked each other - and everyone knew it.

When Tom retired from the News-Post in 1985 and started The Glade Times and Mountain Mirror in Walkersville, there was a regular Saturday feature to which I was invited - sometimes. Bill and Tom would meet in the weekly's office and just shoot the breeze - over a cup of coffee or two - for hours. Tom's wife, Marg, and son Gene Thomas, frequently joined the conversation. Even Marg's mother - Rosa Oden - got into the act.

But it was Bill and Tom who were the catalyst for all subject matter discussed. And usually it had something to do with West Virginia, football or journalism. Both were knowledgeable in all those areas and showed it, with hardly an acknowledgement of those who sat with them and marveled.

After Bill retired, they played golf in Walkersville as often as time and health allowed and continued to share their hopes and dreams until Bill's untimely death in March 2003.

Tom never fully recovered from the loss.

The Glade Times and Mountain Mirror, first published on January 8, 1986, was a dream - and a prayer - answered for Tom, and he poured his life's blood into it. It was quite successful and demonstrated a true picture of what a community newspaper could be. The run lasted almost 11 years.

Newspapering wasn't Tom's only passion in the communities in which he lived. The YMCA, the VFW, the Sertoma Club, the Red Cross, the Jaycees, the Frederick County Cancer Society and the March of Dimes also benefited from his expertise, concern and love. He never tired of giving of himself.

And what more can one say of a man admired in both high and low places. He was a man among men. He gave of himself to family, friends and community, saving little time for himself.

Tom often babysat his granddaughter Lena Janes. From the time she was two years old she would sit on his lap and he would read the encyclopedia to her. She clung to his every word.

Last Friday, just four years later, Lena picked up the Frederick News-Post, which had a front page story about her grandfather's passing. She read every word, asking questions as she went.

Even this youngster will someday understand the legacy of Tom Mils.

Rest In Peace, Tom Mills. You were a credit to all with whom you came in contact. The newspaper business has lost a giant, especially here in Frederick County.

And I will miss you, too.

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