Though now part of the dimly-remembered past, the late 1980s Atlanta Braves were so bad that they drew fewer than a thousand fans to Atlanta Fulton County Stadium some weeknights.
On one such evening the insurance man T. W. Lord settled into his seat, likely to witness yet another Braves defeat (they lost a combined 203 games in 1988-89), when then-owner Ted Turner approached him from behind.
Slapping him on the back Turner said, “By golly, T.W., don’t you have anything better to do tonight?”
In truth, for five decades there was no place on earth Lord preferred more than the ballpark. He purchased Braves season tickets every year beginning in 1969, living through Chief Noc-A-Homa, the tomahawk chop, Hank Aaron’s 715th homer, 18 division titles, one World Series championship and 14 seasons of 90 or more losses, all played in three stadiums including one now demolished.
He shared tickets with friends, businesses associates, assorted politicians and, especially, children.
In 1993 he met a seven-year-old named Seth Gregory, whose mother Debbie Gregory had bought a cancer policy through Lord. Just weeks later Seth developed a rare throat cancer, which he battled for 18 months by surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.
“I can’t tell you what T.W. meant to us,” Debbie Gregory said. “He took Seth to ballgames, and brought him Braves-related gifts. He didn’t have that look of horror that so many people get when they see a kid with cancer. He treated him like a normal kid, which meant a lot to me. I didn’t want Seth being dependent, fearful.”
They remained friends, too, as Seth survived his illness, eventually graduating from the University of Georgia and Mercer Medical School. Today he’s a general pediatrician with the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.
“T.W. was a role model for sure,” Seth Gregory said recently. “He lived those basic values — work hard, show kindness.”
On July 5, before their game with the Florida Marlins, the Braves honored Lord as the franchise’s longest continuous individual season-ticket holder with a moment of silence. He had died the day before from a stroke suffered July 1.
His funeral was earlier this week at GracePointe Baptist in Marietta. When Pastor Tim Childers asked the congregation how many had received Braves tickets from Lord over the years, about three-quarters of the nearly 300 stood up.
Thomas Watson Lord Jr. was born in Tennille, a tiny hamlet in far eastern Georgia, on August 16, 1927. After graduating from Tennille High in 1944, he moved to Marietta where both his parents worked at the Bell Bomber plant, precursor to Lockheed.
For a time he attended the Atlanta Division of the University of Georgia, now Georgia State University, but never graduated. He dropped out and in 1952 started the T.W. Lord Insurance Agency in Marietta, now called T. W. Lord and Associates, selling life and health insurance.
He married his wife Hazel in 1947, and in the late 1960s with their two children getting older, she went to work fulltime in the office.
She liked telling folks the “T. W.” stood for “tightwad,” but that was more an inside joke between them. He was generous with money, Braves tickets and his time for people like Seth Gregory. Most of all, he wasn’t anywhere near as formal as his stately name sounds.
“People always ask me how I could work all those years with my husband,” Hazel said recently. “Well, he was easy to get along with. He was able to smooth out any disagreements, and I don’t think he ever got sick of me.”
Sam Massey, a close friend and colleague for almost 40 years, who owns Sam Massey Agents Marketing Group, said, “I wish every insurance agent I have had half his character.
“Over the years,” Massey said, “a lot of competition came along to take business away. But T.W. always kept his clients, and it was because he was so trustworthy. He always kept his word. I tell my agents, we’re not in it for the money, we’re in it to take care of people. I teach that, but T.W. embodied it.”
He and Hazel never retired and continued working full days. He also spent months planning a surprise birthday party, which he threw for her at GracePointe on Sunday, June 30, which she now calls, “one of the happiest days of my life.”
Save for shingles about 16 years ago, Lord had never had a serious illness. He worked, as he always did, 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Monday July 1, writing new policies and planning which Braves games he’d attend that week.
That night after dinner, as he’d done for several years, he began his 30-minute walk on his treadmill at home while listening to a playlist that included Tennessee Ernie Ford, Jim Reeves, Patsy Cline and other old time country and gospel music. About 15 minutes in, he got off, sat down and told Hazel he needed to go to the hospital, where he later had a stroke.
“He literally lived till he died,” Hazel said.
“For two nights I didn’t get any sleep. But I went back into the office [the day after funeral]. Usually I stay until 5 or 5:30 but I came home today at 4:30 to take a nap. If T.W. had been around he probably would’ve docked my pay.”
T. W. Lord is survived by his wife Hazel, his son Thomas Watson Lord III, (Mary), his daughter, Mary Grace Lord Bright (Tim), his sister Vera Davis along with five grandchildren and nine great grandchildren.