Thomas (Tom) Jack Cornelison, a dedicated career journalist, passed away in Jacksonville on Wednesday morning, Sept. 13, 2017, after a long illness.
A viewing will take place on Friday (today) from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Jacksonville Memory Gardens Cemetery and Funeral Home, 111 Blanding Blvd., Orange Park, FL 32073. After the wake a reception will take place at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, 5752 Blanding Blvd., Jacksonville, FL 32244.
A graveside service, with the Rev. James Kaniparampil presiding, will take place at Jacksonville Memory Gardens on Saturday, Sept. 16, at 10 a.m.
In lieu of flowers, the family desires that donations be sent to a favorite hospice organization.
Tom dearly loved his family and cherished taking trips with his mother, Dorothy Cornelison after his father, Merlin O. Cornelison, passed away. He is survived by his mother; his brother, Bruce Cornelison, and sister-in-law, Sandy (Andreu) Cornelison; niece, Tracy (Stacy Jay) Cornelison; nephew, Ryan (Kimberly Lassiter) Cornelison; a grand-niece and four grand-nephews.
An extremely talented writer, Tom from an early age wanted to be a journalist, according to his brother, Bruce Cornelison. He realized that dream. As a sports reporter and editor, Tom interviewed sports stars and covered a multitude of major athletic events such as University of Florida football games, bowl games, boxing matches, the Daytona 500 and Major League Baseball's Spring Training.
Tom was born on May 9, 1951, at Westover Field Air Force Base in Chicopee Falls, Mass., but he grew up in Jacksonville. Training for his lifelong passion came early as he served as editor of his high school and junior high school newspapers.
After graduating from Nathan Bedford Forest High School in 1969, Tom attended the University of Florida, where he studied journalism and was the sports editor for the school newspaper, the Independent Florida Alligator.
Tom left the university to take a sports reporter position at the Sarasota Journal. He subsequently returned home to become sports editor and columnist for the Jacksonville Journal.
In addition to his column, a popular feature at the Journal was the Saturday morning "Point Counter Point" article written by Tom and David Lamm, sports editor for the Florida Times-Union. One writer would advocate for one team, and the other would take the opponent. "The banter was entertaining," said Tom's brother, Bruce Cornelison.
Subsequently, Tom joined the Atlanta Journal-Constitution as sports copy editor. He eventually earned a promotion to sports copy desk chief and finished his newspaper career as a copy editor for the AJC's national news desk.
After retiring from the newspaper business, Tom returned to Jacksonville. But he didn't stop writing. As a young man, his heroes were journalists such as Ernest Hemmingway and Sir Winston Churchill. Seemingly influenced by such old-school storytelling styles but applying a brisk modern tempo, he researched and churned out dozens of stories for Jacksonville magazine about the city's history, lore and colorful characters.
Affectionately known by colleagues as "TC," Tom appreciated sound investigative journalism and delighted in telling stories about fellow writers and editors and his experiences in the profession. Upon news of his death, his colleagues praised his dedication to his craft and ability to turn a phrase.
"TC was a leader, a mentor and a great friend," said journalist Mike Luck, who worked on the AJC's sports copy desk with Tom for many years.
"TC was a dedicated journalist, an even better man," wrote former AJC sports editor, Don Boykin in a Facebook post.
Tom's colleagues also appreciated his robust humor. Former AJC reporter and editor, Darryl Maxie chimed in: "TC's professionalism was his badge of honor. Of course, he would've replied, 'Badges? We don't need no stinkin' badges!' Boy, we could run a good line into the ground and still keep laughing at it."
Under Tom's tough exterior was a tender heart. Former AJC copy editor Lisa Brown recalled on Facebook that four days after Tom hired her; she burst into tears at her desk upon hearing that her best friend and his family were killed in an accident.
"TC will always have a special place in my heart," she wrote. "He didn't even hesitate. He told me to go and take however much time I needed. … I will always love him for the compassion and empathy he showed me that day."
Published in St. Augustine Record on Sep. 15, 2017.