Archive for Thursday, May 18, 2006

Leroy Tombs dead at 85

Bonner businessman, honored often, was adviser to presidents

May 18, 2006

Bonner Springs lost one of its leading lights last week. Leroy Tombs Sr., 85, a community leader and businessman, died of cancer May 10 in the home he was born in, on the street named for him.

Tombs graduated from Bonner Springs High School in 1940, and joined the Navy that year. As was common in the military of that era, he was assigned to duties as a cook. He made a career of the Navy and, after he retired as a chief petty officer in 1963, he started his own catering and janitorial services company, Tombs and Son, Inc., which eventually landed federal contracts and grew to employ 50,000 people.

Tombs also owned a Lincoln and Ford dealership from 1974 to 1976 in Kansas City, Mo.

Jesse Milan, professor emeritus at Baker University, said he met Tombs first in the late 1950s.

"He was very interested and concerned in the supporting of minority businesses," Milan said. "He would always make sure he'd be on the side of helping African-American entrepreneurs ... He put his money where his mouth was," helping young people start businesses through both advice and helping them to find the necessary finances.

Tombs was a member and former president of the Bonner Springs NAACP, which named him Man of the Year in 2005. He was also a member of the Black Chamber of Commerce, and was active in Republican politics.

Former senator and presidential candidate Bob Dole remembered Tombs fondly.

"Leroy was a longtime friend and supporter of mine," Dole said. "I can't recall ever seeing Leroy when he was not smiling with a twinkle in his eye. We've lost a good man."

Tombs was an independent-minded man. He believed "minorities shouldn't give their votes to just one party," his son, Phillip Tombs, said.

"Dad didn't see color," Phillip Tombs said, although "he knew who he was -- a black man in America." Despite the fact that he, like many other blacks in the Navy, had been relegated to kitchen work during World War II, he showed no bitterness about the fact and took advantage of the experience in making business contacts for his post-war career.

Phillip Tombs lived with and took care of his father, who'd been diagnosed with cancer in 2000. Phillip Tombs said his father had still been able to function, but in the last months his disease had "escalated."

Phillip Tombs said both he and his father were prepared for his departure.

Mary Kimbrough, president of the Bonner Springs NAACP, said Tombs, a former president of the chapter, was "a man among men."

Kimbrough said Tombs helped establish the Bonner Springs NAACP's Youth Council

"He's left us quite a legacy," Kimbrough said. "He's helped so many people not only in Bonner Springs but all over."

Louisa Fletcher, a fellow member of the Bonner Springs NAACP, knew Tombs since they were both children.

"He was the kind of person you could depend upon," she said. "He was always helpful. He'll be missed."

Bonner Springs Mayor Clausie Smith said he'd known Tombs ever since he'd moved to Bonner.

"He was a fine Christian gentleman who took advantage of the opportunities he saw in his life and never forgot where he was from. He never failed to help someone in need."

Smith, the former publisher of the Chieftain, said one of his favorite memories of Tombs was the many times he'd stop by the paper's office to visit while walking down Oak Street.

"He was outgoing and warm, could talk about everything from government to cooking," Smith said.

In addition to Phillip Tombs, Leroy Tombs leaves behind four children: Darlene Collier, Wanda Ford, Leroy Tombs Jr., of Kansas City, Kan., and Madlyn Tombs, who lives in Denver.

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