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Tommy Van Scoy

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Van Scoy, self-made diamond king, dies

The 85-year-old icon became famous for a chain of jewelry stores along the East Coast.


By KRIS WERNOWSKY [email protected]

KINGSTON – Tommy Van Scoy, the diamond king, who became one of the Wyoming Valley’s most recognizable business icons through his jovial advertising jingles, died Thursday at 85 of a heart condition.

Van Scoy became famous through his successful chain of diamond jewelry stores along the East Coast, though he was also known as a championship boxer, an amateur pilot and a person whose life epitomized the post-Depression image of a self-made man.

Van Scoy was born March 22, 1920, in Bear Creek Township. His mother, Mary Van Scoy, died when he was 8 years old. In the 1930s, his father, Anthony Van Scoy, a former steelworker, had a difficult time finding work during the Depression. Young Van Scoy graduated from Coughlin High School and made money as a newspaper boy and as a shoe-shiner on Public Square.

He was a National Golden Gloves boxer, and out of 87 fights he lost three. In 1942 he joined the Army, where the flip of a coin ignited an interest in a new vocation.

“While I was in the army, I went to San Antonio,” he told the Times Leader in June 1981. “I was with two other officers and we flipped a coin to see who would pay for the movie. I lost and the coin landed on the crystal of my watch and broke it.”

He took the watch to a repair shop, and when the jeweler learned he was interested in the inner workings of the timepiece, the jeweler taught Van Scoy how to fix a watch.

“His gift was that whenever there was something negative or bad thing that happens to you; if you have a problem, there’s an opportunity,” said his son Wayne Van Scoy on Thursday.

After returning home from his military service a lieutenant and married to Velma Coats of Childress, Texas, he rented a second floor retail space at 52 S. Main St. in Wilkes-Bare and opened his first jewelry store in 1945. Several years later he decided he could make more money selling diamonds exclusively.

He was dubbed the G.I. Jeweler and his business expanded.

He adopted two children with his first wife. He and his second wife had eight children.

When Van Scoy retired from the diamond business in 1993, he left seven self-owned stores to his children. Through franchising, Van Scoy lent his name to 40 additional stores along the East Coast including shops in Scranton; Binghamton, N.Y.; Hartford, Conn.; and West Springfield, Mass.

“When I walk into a town, I don’t have to depend on luck,” Van Scoy once said. “I’ve arranged it and planned it logically. I’ll go in and sell more diamonds in one day than all the other jewelers in town have in a week.”

After the Agnes flood of 1972, Van Scoy moved his shop to the Gateway Shopping Center in Kingston, and in 1990 he built the Van Scoy Diamond Mine at 154 Mundy St., which is owned by Wayne Van Scoy.

For the last months of his life, Van Scoy stayed at the Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center in Plains Township, where he succumbed to an ongoing heart condition.
Published in Times Leader on June 10, 2005
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