Tommy Lott, Jr., who died Thursday at age 82, spent more than 60 years at the T.E. Lott and Company, building the accounting firm his father started in 1926 into one of the most respected firms in the region. He will be remembered as a tireless advocate for Columbus and the Golden Triangle, a wise friend and mentor, and loving husband and father. Photo by: Courtesy photo/The Tommy Lott, Jr. family
Tommy Lott, Jr.
In 1956, 19-year-old Tommy Lott, Jr., left, was paired with 15-year-old Jack Nicklaus in the Sunnehanna Tournament of Champions in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Nicklaus, considered the greatest golfer in history, was playing in his first national amateur tournament. The memory of that tournament remained vivid in Lott's memories for the rest of his life.
Photo by: Courtesy photo/The Tommy Lott, Jr. family
August 25, 2018 10:02:13 PM
Even though they had known each other for years, each time Tommy Lott called the Brunini Law Firm to speak with attorney Gordon Flowers, Lott would always spell out his name to the receptionist.
"It's Lott," he would say. "L-O-T-T."
It got to be a running joke, Flowers said Friday.
"It was like he was introducing himself to a stranger," he said.
In truth, Thomas E. Lott Jr., who died Thursday at age 82 after a brief illness, was among the best known, most respected men in Columbus.
"I feel lucky I got to be friends with Tommy," said Roger Truesdale, who joined Lott and eight other men each Friday morning for a prayer group that has now being going on for 21 years. "For us, Tommy was the guy we looked to for his insight and wisdom. He was 15 years older than anybody else in the group, so we all looked up to him."
Golden Triangle Development LINK CEO Joe Max Higgins said he wouldn't be in Columbus if it weren't for Lott.
"After three weeks here, I was ready to leave," he said. "It was Tommy that took a personal interest in me and my family. He stepped in and helped. I have a feeling I'm not the only person who has that kind of story about Tommy."
A master at numbers and golf
By profession, Lott was a CPA, ultimately taking over the accounting firm his father founded in Columbus in 1926, and building it into one of the best known firms in the region with offices in Columbus, Starkville and Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
"He loved it," said Truesdale, who met Lott in 1987. "The man knew more about numbers than anybody I've every known."
Even Higgins, who is no stranger to numbers, was awed by Lott's mastery of the subject.
"If you asked Tommy to explain something, you'd better have a big cup of coffee," Higgins said. "I got to where I'd just ask him for the Reader's Digest version because if I didn't he'd really go so deep you would get lost."
At his company, Lott was known as a genial, supportive and demanding boss.
"He was fun to work for but he was very serious about his work and expected things to be done right," said accountant Mike Hawkins, who retired from Lott's firm in June. "His knowledge was just incredible and he was very generous with it. He mentored so many accountants over the years. Nobody knew taxes like Tommy."
Outside the office, Lott turned his quiet intensity to other interests, including golf.
As a young man, Lott was one of the top golfers in the state and winner of numerous tournaments, including the 1955 Mississippi Open Championship, which was then open to pro golfers and amateurs alike.
That victory landed him a spot in the 1956 Sunnehanna Tournament of Champions in Johnstown, Pennsylvania.
Lott, then 19, was paired with a 15-year-old from Columbus, Ohio, playing in his first national tournament in three of the four rounds.
Lott finished in a very respectable tie for eighth in that tournament, two shots behind his playing partner, Jack Nicklaus.
"That was always something my dad got a kick out of talking about," said Toby Lott, the eldest of Lott's three children. "Years later, when Nicklaus came down as part of the grand opening at Annandale Golf Club in Jackson, he spent two hours with my dad. He remembered Dad from that first tournament. That was a great thrill for Dad."
Lott also followed Mississippi State athletics and made regular jaunts to Scooba with a handful of buddies to watch East Mississippi Community College football games. He was also a fixture at almost every sport his four grandchildren played in, Toby said.
An advocate for the community
His interest in sports was only eclipsed by his interest in Columbus and the Golden Triangle.
"When I think about Tommy, his continued interest and care about the community and its development is one of the first things that comes to mind," Flowers said. "I can remember as far back as the early 80s, when Tommy was instrumental in Columbus being considered for the super collider."
The Superconducting Super Collider was a major development in energy research at the time and competition for the $4.4 billion project that was to cover more than 54 miles in underground structure was one of the most highly-coveted projects in the nation at the time.
Lott turned his attention to the project, organizing meetings, buying land near the airport and preparing infrastructure to support the Columbus bid.
Columbus lost out on the project, which was eventually awarded to a site in Texas.
It turned out for the best, however. The Super Collider project was abandoned in 1993. Meanwhile, the site Lott had been instrumental in developing near the airport became the location of Severstal.
"We put that first mega-site where the steel mill is on that property," Higgins said. "I remember when we got the site certified, Tommy came in and told me how happy he was. He said a lot of his friends had gotten onto him about buying that worthless land out there. He said after those years, he finally felt vindicated."
Truesdale said the industrial park was but one of many projects, big and small, that Lott championed.
"He worked extremely hard on anything that would make this place flourish," Truesdale said.
'Think before you speak'
Lott's leadership style was in evidence in every aspect of his life, including at home, Toby said.
"First, he didn't have a lot to say," Toby said. "He spoke softly. He wasn't pushy even though he was a brilliant man. He listened to what you had to say. The biggest thing I think he taught me was to think before you talk.
Beyond that, Toby said, Lott instilled Christian values in his children.
"Dad was always more interested in the person he was talking to than he was himself," he said. "That's what was really neat about him. He wanted to know all about you, what you wanted to do, what your plans were and how he could help you do whatever it was you were trying to do.
"That's something that will always stick with me," he added. "I think my brother (Ed Lott) and sister (Marion Kilarsky) feel like I do: We were lucky to have him as a father."
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]
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