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