(ALEXANDER CITY) Thomas Byron Saunders Sr. was a Tallapoosa County native, patriot, poet and farmer, who went to be with the Lord on Saturday, Jan. 2, 2021, at the age of 85. He died from complications of the COVID virus at Russell Hospital in Alexander City. His wife Lane was by his side as he peacefully transitioned to heaven.
Known as Tom to most, Byron to those who perhaps knew him best, Chiefy to the love of his life, and Daddy/Granddaddy to his children and grandchildren, Tom loved his family with a deep, steadfast love and was a doting grandfather who lived a full, long and happy life. He was born to Mattie Henry Louise Dark Saunders and Stewart Saunders on March 29, 1935, just up the road from where he lived most of his life on Old Dark Road.
He is survived by his adoring wife of 39 years, Rosalyn Lane McMurray Saunders; sons, Thomas Byron Saunders Jr. (Ashley) and Stewart McMurray Saunders; grandchildren, Thomas Alexander Saunders, Emerson Reid Saunders and Rosalyn Handley Elizabeth Saunders; and sister, Sylvia Saunders Rush (Charles). Tom was preceded in death by his beloved daughter, his most precious Baby Lamb, Rosalyn Louise Saunders, in 2002 at the tender age of 17.
A quiet, unassuming child, Tom grew up wandering his family's ancestral farmland and developed an early, deep love for Alabama's red clay. Tom was educated at the University of Alabama, Young Harris, and The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, finishing his formal education in 1958 at Chapel Hill with an AB in English "at a time when they still awarded sheepskin diplomas." Tom struggled to hone in on his called vocation for several years, at times feeling a call to the ministry (hence his time at Young Harris in the early 1950s), but he was always called back to his love of the written word. At the time of his death, he was finishing a volume of poetry, as well as a photo history of the county courthouses of Alabama, both of which he had plans to publish.
Although never very open about his service to our country, he was a proud veteran, serving two years after being drafted into the U.S. Army in 1959. Tom went directly into Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Ga., and was selected to serve on the color guard for the base's commanding general "because of my height ... and because I was handsome." Much to the thrill of his grandchildren, he also learned how to "shoot a bazooka and drive an army jeep" during his service to the country.
His service completed, Tom found himself back home in Alexander City with a desire to teach school. Always somewhat of a free spirit, he shut his eyes and touched a map - determined to go where his finger landed. So Tom wrote to the superintendent of schools in Montpelier, Vt., to inquire about teaching opportunities. His letter resulted in a phone call from Dr. Robert Chastney, principal of Montpellier High School, followed by a job at Montpellier High School teaching college prep English from 1961 through 1967 where he served as faculty advisor for the year book (The Record) and built into his students an appreciation of Faulkner and other classic Southern literature. The Montpelier High School yearbook in 1963 was dedicated to him by the editorial staff; those enduring friendships forged with his students and colleagues continued throughout his life.
However, Tom's heart and hands yearned for the red clay of Tallapoosa County, and he returned home from Vermont in 1967 to focus on his writing, and he was employed in various newspaper work. In 1974 Tom Russell named him editor of Russell Corporation's internal newspaper, The Russell Record, and under his editorship the publication expanded to include a monthly news update and a full-color magazine featuring the company's employees and plants. It was in the role of editor in chief that he met the love of his life, Lane McMurray, when she came to work for him in 1979 as an editorial assistant at the recommendation of Lane's aunt, Margaret Shaffer. Tom and Lane were subsequently married in 1981, and they continued to work side-by-side through the publication of the final issue of The Russell Record in November 2006. Tom had a deep love of the Russell families and their contributions to Alexander City; he was happiest wandering the floor of the mills on all shifts with his camera and a little notebook in his pocket. Tom was often referred to as the Russell historian for his quick mind to recall facts of the history of the corporation.
Tom enjoyed politics, and mounted two campaigns for public office - one for the Alabama State Board of Education in 2002 and a second for the Alabama State Senate in 2006. Even though both campaigns ultimately proved unsuccessful, Tom made many friends and memories during his campaign travels. He subsequently served as a member of the Tallapoosa County Republican Committee and as a member of the Tallapoosa County Board of Equalization.
After his time with The Russell Record, Tom spent his time writing poetry, farming his family acreage in east Tallapoosa County, and loving his wife Lane. He loved gardening, chopping firewood and sitting in the sunshine with his herd of yard cats and his lap dog Penelope. Tom was a window into the Old South, one of the last great Southern gentlemen, with courtly manners and a shy smile. Those who knew him best recall his ability to tell stories about days gone by with an eidetic memory and attention to detail that alludes most, the love and pride he held for his family and their accomplishments, and the heartbreaking loss he and Lane felt when their only daughter was taken from them in a car accident in 2002.
Tom will be buried in the family Dark-Maxwell family cemetery next to his daughter Rosalyn with a private graveside service. The family will accept flowers or donations to the Children's Miracle Network at the Children's Hospital of Georgia at 1446 Harper St., BT 1844, Augusta, GA 30912 or online at augustahealth.org/give/childrens. Donations should be made in honor of his grandson, Alexander Saunders. Memorial messages may be sent to the family at www.radneyfuneralhome.com.
Radney Funeral Home, Alexander City.