By CALVIN ADKINS
THE DAILY SOUTHERNER
For more than 25 years, Daily Southerner newspaper carrier Tommy Lee Baggett was one of the first to pick up his papers and one of the first to finish his route. The newspaper's longest-tenured carrier serviced one of the largest routes and traditionally received the fewest complaints. Baggett, whose work ethic and approach to customer care was applauded at one time or the other by each of the five publishers he served under, died Saturday after a lingering illness. He was 81.
"The Daily Southerner family has lost a valuable member," said publisher John H. Walker. "Likewise, many of our readers have lost a friend and a member of their extended family. Tommy was an old-school newspaper carrier in that he delivered our readers their newspapers in all types of weather conditions and he did it almost flawlessly. Tommy simply did not miss delivering his newspapers, even after his health began to fail."
On a good day, Baggett's 72-mile route took him four hours and 15 minutes to complete when he could get a head start on lunchtime traffic on the U.S. 64, he told a Daily Southerner reporter during a 2006 interview.
Baggett was born in Jackson, Miss., and raised in Minden, La., outside Shreveport. Apparently the Mississippian was a good high school athlete, but turned down a football scholarship to Louisiana Tech because he hated school. Instead, he chose to join the Navy for his first full-time job.
While stationed in Norfolk, Va., Baggett visited an uncle in Tarboro, where he met Alma Groover Mitchell. In less than four months, Baggett claimed Mitchell as his wife and Tarboro as his new home.
Along with his new home, Baggett found a job as a truck driver for Smoot Wholesale Co. During his tenure with Smoot, Baggett was seriously injured in a wreck that required him to have a knee and hip replacement. After he recovered from the injuries, Baggett went back to Smoot Wholesale, where he managed the company's warehouse until he retired in 1986.
That retirement was short-lived. Within about nine months, he found a niche with The Daily Southerner as a carrier.
“I had to be busy,” Baggett said in the 2006 interview. “I don’t think you can work all your life and then all of a sudden shut it down. Being active is good for anybody.”
Baggett rarely missed a day from work until he lost his wife Alma. After mourning her death, he was soon back on the route again. Baggett later married Alma Mitchell. Soon after that union, Baggett's health issues began to intensify but he continued to deliver when it was possible. His new wife learned her husband's route and delivered it when he was ill. Baggett returned periodically and rode with her until this latest episode.
Circulation Manager Joe Taylor said Baggett's last delivery was about 45 days ago.
"He loved what he did and he was good at what he did," Taylor said. "It was hard to pull him away from it. I can't believe that he's gone."
Taylor and Walker had estimated several months ago that Baggett, through home delivery and deliveries to dealers and newspaper vending boxes, was responsible for more than 750,000 papers reaching readers over the years.
Funeral services for Baggett will be held 2 p.m. Tuesday at Carlisle Funeral Home. Visitation will be from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday at Carlisle.