Meridian Star

May 9, 2013

ECCC mourns loss of band director

Carson loses battle with cancer

Article courtesy of ECCC
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN —     Longtime East Central Community College Director of Bands Thomas W. Carson died Monday morning in Baptist Medical Center following a lengthy battle with esophageal cancer.

    Dr. Billy Stewart, ECCC president, stated in an article on the college's website that he was saddened by Carson's death.

    “Mr. Carson waged a courageous battle against cancer and encouraged so many with his wit, determination, and dignity throughout his illness," Stewart said. "While we mourn with the Carson family during this time of great loss, we are so grateful that Mr. Carson invested his time, energy, and talents into East Central and our students. We are a better institution because of the service of Tom Carson."

    Carson served as ECCC's director of bands for 30 years, from 1982 to 2012. He retired from full time duties last year to wage war against his cancer, but continued to serve as director and a member of the Collegians, the College’s rock-n-roll band. The Collegians spring concert was recently canceled due to Carson’s declining health.

    Visitation for Carson will be today from 5-8 p.m. at Clarke Venable Baptist Church. Services will be Friday at 11 a.m. at Clarke Venable Baptist Church with burial in the Decatur City Cemetery.

    Carson’s first stint at East Central began in the early 70s, not as a teacher, but as a student. And it was an instructor at East Central that led him down his chosen career path.

    “Why did I choose education? Good gravy … who knows?" Carson said in a March 2012 interview. "In 1973, I was a long-haired, skinny kid who had just moved to Conehatta, Mississippi, from Naples, Italy, a few weeks before, as my father (Charles Carson), a U.S. Diplomat, retired here. Having grown up in several foreign countries, I was not in band and only played guitar and a little piano.

    "The ECJC band director at the time, Gilbert Sommers, was assigned to write my class schedule. I told him I was not sure of a major, but I played guitar. He said, ‘Ok, major in music and join the marching band.’ I looked at him and said, ‘The what?’ He then took me to the band hall, handed me a French horn, and said, ‘Learn to play this.’ And, here I am, retiring as a band director 34 years later, the last 30 at EC.”

    Through the years Carson helped transform a little-known community college band into the massive Wall O’ Sound recognized today.

    In addition to the Wall O’ Sound now being able to travel comfortably in charter buses to out-of-town football games, the entire music department has seen many positive changes and much progress since 1982. During the early days there might have been only three to four music majors in a year, Carson said in the interview last year. Today, the Fine Arts Department boasts more than 200 students involved in various performing groups and an average of 20 freshman music majors each year.

    The work wasn't always easy. And, as with most teachers, his students are the reason Carson has continued his career in education for so many years.

    “Working with and mentoring students was my reason for staying in education 34 years,” Carson stated in the article. “My philosophy at EC was to give every worthy student a chance to develop their love for music and performing. Over the years, we had band members from so many backgrounds: kids from big high school bands, small bands, schools with no bands, home-schooled kids, kids from foreign countries, high school drop-outs, kids with disabilities and kids from broken homes that thrived on the structure and positive atmosphere of my band hall.

    "All these students had one thing I recognized they had in common: a love for music and a desire to belong. I gave all of them the same respect, encouragement and opportunities to contribute to my band program and the formula worked.”