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Life After Show Business

LIFE AFTER SHOW BUSINESS

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Embracing Birmingham:
Having said “good–bye” to Show Business, Tommy accepted a position at his father–in–law’s lumberyard, and by the fall of 1950 he and his family had moved to Birmingham, Alabama. With the move came an abrupt decrease in his income from $3,000 per week to $200 per month plus room and board. But at last Tommy could come home to his family every night, and he embraced the change.

Tommy became the Associate Minister of Music at a local Baptist Church, and using the G.I. Bill he went back to school and earned an Associate Degree in Architectural Engineering with a minor in Business Law. But there were still opportunities to perform, and he couldn’t resist taking advantage of them.

The Call of the Stage:
In 1950 James Hatcher, an instructor in speech at the University of Alabama, brought together a group of University alumni who were interested in forming a community theater in Birmingham. The group, made up mostly of volunteers, took the name “Town and Gown”. Using various venues around Birmingham, their first production, Born Yesterday, opened at the Masonic Temple on December 7, 1950. It starred Tommy Dix.

In 1955 the “Town and Gown” took up permanent residence in the historic Little Theater, which was renovated and renamed the Clark Memorial Theater, and at the beginning of the following year they presented their first musical, Best Foot Forward. The now famous composer, songwriter and Alabama native, Hugh Martin, and his sister came in to help stage the production, and Tommy Dix was chosen to lead the cast.

While continuing to work at his day job, first in the lumberyard (where he had become a vice–president) and then as a builder of single–family homes, Tommy took part in almost every form of entertainment the city had to offer. He continued to work with the “Town and Gown” community theater; he was one of the organizers of the Birmingham Civic Ballet Association; he was the director of Birmingham’s second annual Christmas Festival at City Hall; he sang in the summer concerts held at Woodrow Wilson Park; he produced and was the Master of Ceremonies for the annual “Music Under the Stars” concerts at Legion Field; and he was even the Master of Ceremonies at the “Miss Alabama Pageant Finals” held in 1954. Tommy was generous with his time and talent, but only if it filled a civic purpose.

After Birmingham:
In 1959, after 13 years of marriage, Tommy and his wife divorced and he sadly decided to leave Birmingham and seek his fortune elsewhere. Moving first to Maryland where he helped Panitz Bros. & Company develop the planned community of Joppatowne near the Chesapeake Bay, and then to Sarasota, Florida, where he directed residential building for Rutenberg Homes, Tommy finally settled down along the rapidly expanding southeastern coast of Florida where condominium complexes and subdivisions were being developed on a large scale. These “planned recreational communities”, that combined ownership with care–free living, attracted Tommy and he started specializing in real estate marketing. Within a few years he had become the project manager for the state’s two largest subdivisions, played a leading role in the marketing and sales of some of southeastern Florida’s most important developments, and innovated a number of marketing and design approaches that put him at the top of his field.

The Society of Athens:
In 1975 Tommy formed an intellectual discussion group at Palm–Aire, one of his resort–condominium projects in Pompano Beach. He named the discussion group “The Society of Athens” to reflect the spirit of the Golden Age of Greece when the pursuit of truth and reflection upon abstract ideas was valued and encouraged. Growing out of his lifelong commitment to the study and understanding of science, philosophy, and religion, Tommy wanted to offer residents an outlet for their intellectual curiosity. He felt strongly that, “For too long a glaring omission in retirement communities has been the lack of accommodation for the people who wish to remain intellectually viable.”

Meeting the second and fourth Sunday of every month, and with Tommy as the moderator, “The Society of Athens” sometimes drew over 100 people to their discussions. The topics ranged from “Love, Sex, and the New Society” to “What is Happiness?” According to the rules set–up by Tommy, members had to stick to universals rather than talking subjectively, and not lash out at the ideas of others. “The raison d’être,” he wrote, “is to provide a forum for free and uninhibited philosophical discussion, on subjects vital to the human condition, for those who feel at home in an intellectually challenging environment, and to provide a place where one is apt to meet others of similar inclination.”

Still Singing:
Although Tommy had little time for outside activities when he was working in real estate, he did make time on a few occasions to share his singing talent. In the early 1980s Tommy was featured at the annual “Salute to America” summer concerts put on by the Boca Raton Pops Orchestra. According to the Boca Raton News, “The audience was hypnotized by the deep, dulcet tones of the former movie star turned realtor.” The newspaper went on to say that, “Dix sent chills down everyone’s spines with his impeccable version of Old Man River.” Tommy also found time in 1985 to perform with the Sunrise Musical Theatre in Sunrise, FL. But, as in Birmingham, he continued to perform only as an unpaid volunteer. “I love it too much to sell it,” he said. Throughout his life Tommy was always ready and willing to freely lend his talents for any civic need.

Retirement:
Eventually the time came for Tommy to retire. He had lived a full life as a very successful entertainer on stage, screen and radio, and a very successful realtor; quite an accomplishment for someone who began life as a seriously ill young lad growing up in a poor section of New York City.

Tommy now lives happily in Williamsburg, Virginia surrounded by the books and art he collected over his lifetime. The preface to one of those books, The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell, might well have been written by Tommy himself:

Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind. These passions, like great winds, have blown me hither and thither, in a wayward course, over a deep ocean of anguish, reaching to the very verge of despair.

I have sought love, first, because it brings ecstasy - ecstasy so great that I would often have sacrificed all the rest of life for a few hours of this joy. I have sought it, next, because it relieves loneliness - that terrible loneliness in which one shivering consciousness looks over the rim of the world into the cold unfathomable lifeless abyss. I have sought it, finally, because in the union of love I have seen, in a mystic miniature, the prefiguring vision of the heaven that the saints and poets have imagined. This is what I sought, and though it might seem too good for human life, this is what - at last - I have found.

With equal passion I have sought knowledge. I have wished to understand the hearts of men. I have wished to know why the stars shine. And I have tried to apprehend the Pythagorean power by which number holds sway above the flux. A little of this, but not much, I have achieved.

Love and knowledge, so far as they were possible, led upward toward the heavens. But always pity brought me to earth. Echoes of cries of pain reverberate in my heart. Children in famine, victims tortured by oppressors, helpless old people a hated burden to their sons, and the whole world of loneliness, poverty, and pain make a mockery of what human life should be. I long to alleviate the evil, but I cannot, and I too suffer.

This has been my life. I have found it worth living, and would gladly live it again if the chance were offered me.

 

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