By SUSAN T. LEATHERS
Thomas Hobson “Tom” Bain, 73, an esteemed Brentwood and Williamson County public servant who would never be confused with a politician, died at his Brentwood home Thursday, July 13, 2017.
Long before he first ran for public office, however, Mr. Bain’s life story already had more chapters than most can even dream of writing.
Born in 1944 in Bessemer, Ala., Mr. Bain grew up in Birmingham. After graduating from high school in 1962, he received a football scholarship to his beloved University of Alabama where he played right guard and linebacker under legendary football coach Bear Bryant. Teammates included future NFL legends Joe Namath and Kenny Stabler. After a neck injury forced him off the field, he remained on the sidelines helping coaches and with team management.
In 1968, after participating in UA’s ROTC program, Mr. Bain was commissioned out of college and joined the US Army. In the fall of 1968 he left for Vietnam as a second lieutenant assigned to an armor unit. In a fascinating and extensive interview with the Veterans History Project, Bain shared minute details of his time overseas. He was based at Vinh Long, and it was there he received injuries that earned him a Purple Heart.
“I had been out in the field for 30 days, didn’t get a hangnail. Probably didn’t get bitten by a mosquito,” Mr. Bain told interviewer Brian Allen. After a steak dinner and movie in the Officer’s Club, while walking to his quarters, “the first mortar round that came in hit right behind me. … The concussion from the explosion actually knocked me down and threw gravel and little small pieces of shrapnel in my back. But then it was over.”
Of his time in Vietnam, Mr. Bain told Allen, “It was days or weeks of boredom surrounded by moments of sheer terror.” No soldier under his command was killed, though several were severely wounded. “I never lost a man … killed, and I was very proud of that.”
HCA brought Mr. Bain and his wife, Sonnie, a Huntsville, Ala. native he met while they were both students in Tuscaloosa to Nashville in 1972. He served as HCA’s vice president of human resources until leaving in 1987 to establish his own company, Tom Bain Personnel, in Brentwood. He retired in 1999 after selling his company to a national firm.
Mr. Bain’s public service began in 1977 when he was elected to the Brentwood City Commission. Two years later his fellow commissioners elected him mayor. The two things he took most pride in during his tenure were his work to establish Brentwood High School, which opened in 1982, and the 1981 expansion of Franklin Road through the then-young city’s growing commercial district from Old Hickory Boulevard to Wilson Pike Circle.
In 2006, Mr. Bain returned to public service, representing District 7 on the non-partisan Williamson County Commission. The district encompasses most of Brentwood east of I-65 and the area west of the interstate north of Concord Road. Mr. Bain garnered the most votes in the district’s 2006, 2010 and 2014 county elections. He resigned his seat in January of this year due to declining health.
On Friday morning, Williamson County Mayor Rogers Anderson described Mr. Bain in words that have been repeated over and over as news of his death has spread.
“Tom was a man that loved his family, this county and many people. He never met a stranger. From his daily coffee club friends to the annual Ag Park staff breakfast, he always thought it important to spend time with his friends.
“Personally, he was a man that I could trust to carry the banner through anything I called upon him to do, including chairing the Commission’s Budget Committee. He served on, and chaired, many other committees and was particularly fond of law enforcement. Tom was a man that was true to his word and a solid handshake.
“Often times while spending time together, I was forced to listen to stories about “Roll Tide”, the Yankees and the county’s best ‘meat and three’. My favorite was the story about the piano he donated to the County’s Archives. According to Tom, it was ‘one of a kind’ and had significant historical value. We later learned the reason he gave it to us was that it was so heavy and he needed it out of the way for a remodeling project!
“His smile and friendship will be missed and our thoughts and prayers are with his loved ones.”
An old-school public servant, Bain didn’t have a Facebook page or Twitter account. He didn’t even have an email address until late into his final term in office. When asked why not, he would hold up his cell phone and say if anyone needed him, he was always available to talk with them personally.
An early (1993) participant in the Leadership Brentwood program, Mr. Bain shared his extensive knowledge of Brentwood and Middle Tennessee Civil War history with subsequent LB classes for years.
“Tom Bain was extraordinarily supportive of our leadership programs for many years and donated endless hours of time to give us programs on history and the Civil War,” LB administrator and Williamson Inc. Foundation director Lynn Tucker said. “His presentations, especially when he led classes to the original Granny White Pike and shared the history of it, remain a favorite memory of many Leadership Brentwood alumni.”
Mr. Bain’s interest in military history was spurred by the World War II service given by his father and uncles. His father served in a tank battalion under Gen. George Patton. He became engaged in Civil War history after moving to Nashville and learning about the Battles of Nashville and Franklin.
Oldest son Preston Bain clearly remembers the first day his father took him “hunting” with a metal detector in hand for Civil War artifacts. Preston was 9. “That’s how I got hooked,” said Preston, now regarded as a local Civil War historian in his own right. Several years ago he began observing his father’s Leadership Brentwood History Day presentations and took them over in recent years.
Within the Williamson County community and his family, Mr. Bain served as both a leader and active participant. Preston Bain recalled his father’s 22 years of coaching Brentwood Civitan baseball, long after his three sons had outgrown the little league fields.
Even before his sons were old enough to play, Mr. Bain coached youth football in Nashville. “He loved to tell people his teams were undefeated for five years,” Preston Bain said.
The string of victories came to an end the day his younger brother Wesley was born. “My mom went into labor during the game and my dad left at halftime to take her to the hospital,” Preston Bain said. “When he got back to the field, he learned they had lost the game.”
Mr. Bain served terms as president of the Brentwood Civitan Club and the Brentwood Chamber of Commerce. In 2013, the Brentwood Noon Rotary Club honored its longtime member and one-time vice president as its Citizen of the Year. He was a longtime member of Brentwood Baptist Church.
The son of the late George and Phyllis Bain, Mr. Bain is survived by his wife of 50 years, Margaret “Sonnie” Bain, three sons, Preston (Laura) Bain of Brentwood, Wesley (Christina) Bain of Austin, Texas, and Colin (Lacey) Bain of Nolensville. He is also survived by five grandchildren, Elise, Connor, Marlow, Colson and Emmy Bain.
Austin Funeral and Cremation Services is handling arrangements, which are pending.
Susan T. Leathers, a Brentwood-based media consultant and community leader, is the former editor and co-owner of Home Page Media Group.