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Monday, September 18, 2023
1:00 - 2:00 am (Central time)
Monday, September 18, 2023
9:30am - 1:00 pm (Central time)
Monday, September 18, 2023
2:00 - 3:00 pm (Central time)
Trains, Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Manchac bridge wouldn't normally find themselves in the same conversation, but in the eyes of Tangipahoa Parish they all share one connection.....Tommy Davidson.
Since the 1960s, Thomas "Tommy" Davidson has been a figure in public safety throughout Tangipahoa Parish and across the globe. A 1965 graduate of Hammond High School, Tommy was active in FBLA, Safety Council and was a member of the Basketball and Track teams. In his senior yearbook, Tommy's senior quote of choice would later become the epitome of the "Tom Davidson" we all knew.....that quote read, "He has common sense in a way that is uncommon." Tommy's forward way of thinking would find him inventing things which would make his job and the jobs of those around him easier. Although some of his inventions were seemingly odd, they accomplished Tommy's grand scheme of making common tasks a little bit easier.
During his time in the Marine Corps, Tommy served as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Technician in the Vietnam War. While serving state-side, Tommy worked as a bodyguard and driver for General Chesty Puller, and even deployed as part of an attachment to guard President Richard Nixon when he visited his home, "The Western Whitehouse'', in San Clemente, California.
After serving in Vietnam, Tommy re-enlisted as a military firefighter and ran an airport fire department in California. Upon returning home, Tommy joined the Hammond Fire Department as a volunteer and went to work for Sheriff Tom Sanders as a full-time jailer. At the time, the parish jail was still on the third floor of the current Tangipahoa Parish Courthouse.
When Sheriff Frank Edwards, Jr. was elected and took office in 1969, Tommy served the department as both a Patrol Sergeant and the Communications Supervisor. During these years Tommy had a front row seat to several historical incidents, including the collapse of the Manchac Bridge on September 14, 1976 when a section of the Pass Manchac bridge collapsed after it was rammed by a barge. That destruction caused three vehicles to fall into the water, and only two survivors were found. Tommy was one of the first to arrive at the horrific scene.
Just over a year later on October 20, 1977, Tommy and many other Tangipahoa first responders found themselves helping dig through rubble at the crash site of Lynyrd Skynyrd, when the band's passenger aircraft ran out of fuel and crashed in a wooded area near Gillsburg, Mississippi. Included in his massive personal collection of local history, you can even find photos of the crash site taken by Tommy himself.
Quite often could Tommy be heard talking about the "old days" when he worked for Sheriffs Sanders and Edwards, Jr., but most of all he was most proud of his very first unit, a 1968 Chevrolet Suburban dubbed, "The War Wagon". This fully loaded marked unit had everything you could imagine for a 1970s era law enforcement officer, and was even four wheel drive. Those who remember seeing "The War Wagon" on the road very specifically recall it could go anywhere! Or rather, there wasn't a single place Tommy wouldn't try to take it.
In those days it was common to see the Sheriff's Posse making their way through the backwoods of the Parish, and Tommy was one of them. He recalled one particular time the Posse was chasing an escaped inmate when he fired his gun towards the fleeing felon. He would always laugh when telling this story, recalling, "the horse didn't appreciate a .44 magnum going off right next to its ear." But nonetheless, Tommy assured us they were able to recapture the inmate without any hiccup.
Truly a man of many talents, Tommy also worked for the now defunct Stevens Ambulance, one of the many ambulance providers found in the Parish in the days prior to Acadian Ambulance.
When Sheriff Frank Edwards, Jr. left office in 1980 and returned to his law firm, Tommy tagged along becoming a private investigator for the former Sheriff, as well as former Hammond Mayor, Tom Anderson, who also had a law firm. During this time the Louisiana State Police began introducing crash investigation and crash reconstruction to their recruits. Having a self-taught experience in this field before it was a requirement by all law enforcement officers, Tommy helped to develop the original training program at the State Police Academy for what would become modern day crash reconstruction.
Tommy would continue to do PI work until 2004 when he returned to the Sheriff's Office upon Sheriff Daniel Edwards being elected. During his tenure with Sheriff Daniel Edwards, Tommy assumed the role of Technology Director and Radio Technician. In this role he was responsible for managing the agency's entire computer network and radio communications system. In 2018, Tommy transferred out of this role full-time and continued his service to the department in the capacity of department historian. Tommy was a wealth of knowledge for history, and had accumulated a museum-worth amount of materials.
In addition to his passion for law enforcement and public service, Tommy's second biggest passion was a love of trains. A railroad enthusiast since he was 6 years old, Tommy collected historical railroad materials for more than 50 years. It was Tommy's dream to see a train museum come to Tangipahoa Parish, and that dream came to fruition in 2012 when Tommy donated his entire personal collection of Illinois Central Railroad research to the Tangipahoa Parish Library. This collection included over 4,800 railroad and local history photographs, 500 maps and 25 “valuation books” of various railroad districts.
Tommy married Carla Rae MacLean of New Orleans, LA in November 1971, and together spent the next 51 years of their lives residing in Hammond. Having never had children, Tommy would often relish in the fact that the Sheriff's Office was their family. Tommy's passion to serve the public was no doubt driven by the love he had for his fellow brothers in blue, and the satisfaction he received from being needed and helping anyone he could.
Those who knew Tommy were aware that he struggled with Parkinson’s Disease for many years, however, he never let his ailment stop him from doing what he loved. Until several years ago, Tommy continued to qualify with his duty weapon. Even amidst the tremors he was able to shoot an almost perfect score at the range with the use of his cross-draw holster. When his health began declining over the last two years, Tommy continued to show up for work every day, even when it meant someone had to drive him to the office when he could no longer drive himself.
Sadly, Tommy passed away peacefully at the Ponchatoula Care Center Tuesday evening, September 13th, 2023, at the age of 75, after being on hospice for just shy of two weeks.
Family and friends are invited to attend the Memorial Service on Monday, September 18, 2023 at 1:00 p.m. at Harry McKneely & Son Funeral Home in Hammond, with visitation beginning at 9:30 a.m. Rev. Mary Anne Heine will officiate the services with inurnment to follow in Grace Memorial Episcopal Church Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, please make donations to the Parkinson's Foundation in Tommy's Honor.