At the start of home basketball games at Savannah State University, right before the tip-off, those in Tiger Arena could hear a voice shout out “run ‘em out the gym.”
That voice went silent on January 7, 2018 with the passing of Thomas Mattox, Sr.
Mattox, 69, died at his residence surrounded by his family after a bout with liver disease.
Funeral services were held for Mattox on January 12 at the United House of Prayer For All People on Ogeechee Road.
It was cold and wet on the outside but the legacy that Mattox left on those in attendance was warmly displayed in the sanctuary. During the service, reflections were given by Chaplain John Willis, Samuel Burch, Curtis Foster and John Mattox.
Willis said he met Mattox in basis training and remembers him as “a joyful fellow who had a lot of love in his heart.” Burch, who now lives in Carey, North Carolina, stated that he and Mattox had a lot in common such as being high school classmates, serving in Vietnam, attending Savannah State, their love of cars and working for the juvenile justice system. He added that Mattox was instrumental in developing a veterans group at SSU. Foster described Mattox as a true friend and said that he has known him since 1995. “He may not agree with everything you had to say but he wasn’t going to sugarcoat what was on his mind,” he added. John said his older brother was a character. He remembered the times when they were young growing up on the family farm and having to do chores such as milking cows before they went to school.
Minister Gander Mattox, who resides in Little Rock Arkansas, gave soul stirring words of comfort. He told those gathered that without memory of your past, you don’t understand the path you are on. He thanked his older brother for helping pave the way for others to enjoy the liberties we have today. “I remembered when Tom had to use the Colored only bathroom in the Elbert County Courthouse, had to pick cotton and had to delay college because he was drafted into the Army.” His text came from John 8:31-36 and he focused on verse 33.
Many considered the Elbert County, Georgia native to be Savannah State University’s number one sports fan.
He could be described as a happy go lucky type of fellow who was known to say what was on his mind. He would be one of the first to congratulate athletes and coaches when the team won and would offer advice and console them after a loss.
Mattox would travel near and far to see the Tigers play, no matter if it was football, basketball or marbles. He wore his blue and orange with pride.
Despite being ill, he was able to witness SSU win their 2017 Homecoming game. Fans knew Mattox was in the stands at Theodore Wright Stadium once he starting blowing his air-horn.
Mattox was admitted to Hospice Savannah in mid-November, but being an ex-athlete, he had that never say quit attitude. His fight and determination allowed him to show improvement and eventually be released Thanksgiving weekend.
After graduating from Blackwell High School in 1966, Mattox was drafted into the United States Army the following year. He fought in the Vietnam War and was on the first African American LRRP (Long Range Rifle Platoon) Team. Mattox received an honorable discharged after two years and returned home. He later continued the family tradition of attending Savannah State and was the first of many who played sports at SSU. During his time at the College by the Sea, Mattox was an active member of the student body. He was a pitcher on the Tigers baseball team, sang in the Glee Club and became a member of Alpha Phi Omega Service Fraternity. He received his bachelor’s in Sociology in 1974.
While completing his undergraduate studies, Mattox married his college sweetheart, the former Almisha Surrency of Waycross, Georgia. A year later, the couple was blessed with their only son, Thomas, Jr., although most know him as Bubba.
Mattox worked in the insurance industry for about a decade and then for the Georgia Department of Juvenile Services in Savannah until his retirement.
In addition to attending Savannah State sporting events, he enjoyed fishing, hunting turkey and deer and serving as an old school disc jockey. He was also a member of Omar Temple No. 21 PHA Shriners of Savannah, Georgia and Life Member of the SSU National Alumni Association.
Apostle C. R. Durham delivered the eulogy. Durham, who stated that he had known Mattox for over 40 years, spoke from 1 Corinthians 15: 3-4, 24-26 and his topic was ‘Jesus has taken care of death’.
Mattox was laid to rest with military honors in his hometown of Bowman, Georgia at the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church Cemetery, on January 13.