Actor Tommy Ford’s family and friends described him as a giant in spirit and truly selfless during a memorial service Saturday in Decatur.
Several hundred people gathered for the program at the Porter Sanford III Performing Arts & Community Center on Rainbow Drive.
Ford, 52, was best known for his role on the popular 1990s sitcom “Martin”, but he also had roles on television shows and films such as “Harlem Nights”, “Who Did I Marry?” ‘Switching the Script” and “Hard Lessons.”
He died at an Atlanta hospital after an aneurysm ruptured in his abdomen.
Celebrities attending included Angie Stone, comedians Rodney Perry and Arlen “Griff” Griffin and actresses Terri J. Vaughn and Jazsmin Lewis, who shared their remembrances - often through tears - of Ford, who moved to metro Atlanta several years ago.
Viviane Brazil, who met Ford six years ago and became his life partner, said she felt as it she had gone to “Tommy Ford University.” She said he taught her how to love people and how to care for people and he cared greatly for his community.
Atlanta poet Hank Stewart recited a couple of poems and also shared his memories of Ford.
Another friend recited a a prayer in Arabic and English.
Stone showed a tweaked video of her hit “Brotha” as a tribute.
Friends and relatives described Ford as a practical joker, who made everyone feel special even strangers who might come up to him on the street or in a restaurant.
He “made you feel like you were his best friend,” said comedian Swift . “If you said you said you were close to Tommy, I believe you.”
Several nephews and nieces talked about the role Ford played in their lives from attending graduations, to frequent phone calls and words of advice.
“Tommy was more than just my uncle,” he raised me, literally,” said his nephew Tony Donald, who had to stop several times after he became emotional. “He was like my uncle, my father, the disciplinarian in my life and he was my best friend…Tommy took it upon himself to fill all of those gaps.”
They addressed the audience backed by an image of a large blue butterfly. Ford loved butterflies, said close friend Susan-Sojourna Collier, She said he used to like watching caterpillars morph into beautiful butterflies and likened that transition to involved in his mentoring program, “Through My Lens Atlanta.”
The program focus on youth in Atlanta and DeKalb County who have an interest in the film and television industry. The 16-week program included film production training and exercises as well as mentoring sessions.
Several of the youth were in the audience, who vowed to succeed in life as a way to honor Ford.
Dareus White-Jones, who worked with Ford as a production assistant, said while he hadn’t known Ford long, “he had my respect. He made me feel welcome. He was a big-name actor but he didn’t make himself unreachable. He was always like that uncle.”
Jazsmin Lewis credited Ford with changing the trajectory of her life when he advised her to switch from music to acting. ‘Don’t limit yourself,” she recalled him saying. Happiness is out there and “he showed you what it looked like,” she said. “It looked like him.”
Collier, also who worked with Ford on several project including a documentary on his mentoring project, said the actor viewed his art as his ministry.
His fans, she recalled, would always shout to him – “Tommy ain’t gotta job,” a running theme for his character on Martin because no one knew where “Tommy” worked.
Ford, though, would tell them that he had a job, “but there’s a difference between my job and my occupation. My occupation is what I do to get a paycheck. And God has blessed me real good. But when I’m doing my job…I’m doing what I was born to do. And we are born to be about our Father’s business,” she said. ” Tommy was about the business of empowering young people – until his final days.”