Thomas B. Kirby (1935 – 2008)
There are judges and lawyers who knew Tom Kirby as a quick-witted, hard-charging lawyer who was at his best when sticking up for the little guy. They know him as Tom Kirby, attorney at law.
There are members of the Franklin schools who knew Tom Kirby as a loyal Wildcat. He was entrusted with a lot of money, and he used it to make his alma mater a better place. They know him as Tom Kirby, Trustee of the Norm Schlicklin Trust.
There are some school-age kids who knew Tom Kirby as a man who always made wisecracks with them, but was at every birthday, many of their games and school plays. They know him as Tom Kirby -- “Papaw.”
There is a woman who knew Tom Kirby as her companion for 50 years. They went on to have 5 children together, all the while traveling to Brazil, Mexico, Spain and a million other places. She knows him as Tom Kirby, her husband.
Tom was known to tell someone to get up, get over it, and go do it, because that’s exactly what he did.
He was born on September 25, 1935, to Burt and Violet Kirby, two people who had no money and no social status in Franklin. He was the oldest of three children, and when circumstances kicked the family in the tail, he was forced to start working when he was only thirteen.
He graduated from Franklin High School in 1953 to no particular honor or achievement. He went straight to the Air Force, where he took a position working around jet engines.
His dream was to one day fly jets. He found out guys with college educations had the best opportunity to get into flight school, so he left the Air Force to go to college, but by then the jet engines had done such damage to his hearing that flight school wasn’t a possibility.
He went to Ohio State, got lost in the shuffle, and returned home to UD. His dad thought he should just get a job at General Motors or Frigidaire, which is what a lot of people did. He worked at Frigidaire, but he still kept going to school, too.
Probably because he had to shovel coal at the age of thirteen, he realized it was harder to get through life without an education. To do that, he had to work, and study, and persevere through tough times. He had no tolerance for laziness.
He had a strong work ethic, and he instilled that in everyone around him – and if they didn’t have that, they were going to hear about it.
He didn’t like people who asked for handouts. A few years ago he heard about a speech Bill Gates gave to some high school students, and he loved what was said. He made copies and gave to all of us
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On the other end of that spectrum, He also didn’t like people who were given their wealth and didn’t share it. He loved the phrase, “Some people were born on third base and they spent their whole life telling people that they hit a triple.”
Everywhere he turned, it seemed as if someone was blocking his way. Still he pushed forward – working, studying, working, studying.
He found comfort in playing drums in a band that played in various places around Dayton. He had a creative side to him that never got fully developed, but music helped fill the void. He was a good writer, too – something you found out if you ever made him mad. He loved the theater, movies and excellent public speaking.
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During these working years, he also found comfort in the company of Patricia Buckley. They married on November 21, 1959.
He worked hard, shot straight with clients, and finally started making decent money. He also got a reputation of being a regular pistol in the courtroom.
One night, while prosecuting misdemeanors in Warren County Court, before Judge Paul Herdman, he was cross-examining an old farmer.
“Sir, isn’t it true that the concept of caveat emptor would apply in this case?”
The farmer said, “Huh?”
“Isn’t it true that the concept of caveat emptor would apply?”
The judge intervened. “Mr. Kirby, not everyone in the courtroom understands the words you are using.”
Being his usual self, he replied, “I’m sorry, judge, which word didn’t you understand?” He loved that story.
He knew that life offers many rewards – mainly the love and good times in the company of family and good friends.
The early 70’s began about a twenty-year period when he had many high-profile cases. He also succeeded on some big money cases that paid him a lot of money.
One day he attended the funeral of someone who was very close to him. He was sad afterward and was asked about that. He said, “You know the sadness is not in that she died. The sadness is in the fact she never really lived.”
When his law firm went through a re-organization, he went to what at the time was the little town of Springboro.
As he approached 1990, his family noticed that Christmas and Thanksgiving and other holidays weren’t as special because they didn’t look any different than any other night.
Then came October 16, 1989 – a day that changed him forever.
Little Sara Elizabeth Stewart was born that day, and Tom Kirby took on a role that he he cherished the most – as “Papaw.”
The kids were now grown, and now people were making money for him, leaving him time to contemplate the essence of life and enjoy the simple pleasures.
The presence of his grandchildren made him a completely different person.
He’d smoked heavily for years, but when Sara came along – for her sake and for his – he abruptly stopped, and never started up again.
You would hear him on the phone with an insurance adjuster, threatening, taunting and insulting them. You’d swear he’d wring their neck if he could ever get his hands on them. But as soon as he hung up the phone, a grandchild would be somewhere in the office.
He morphed into Mr. Rogers, handing out suckers and kisses. Then he’d say, “Here, we need to get him an ice cream. Let’s go.”
If it’s true that grandparents are supposed to spoil their grandchildren, Papaw Tom got that part right.
His interest in sports changed. When his kids were younger and were playing sports, he was never able to go.
Then, when the grandchildren came along, you would see him leave the office early in the day. “Chase has a big game tonight.”
“No, down here at the park. We can’t be late. They have a rematch with Northern Sunoco who they beat 11-8 last time, when Chase drove in those winning runs.”
He’d be the same way if Kevin had a football game.
It soon became common knowledge that he and his wife Pat would go anywhere, anytime for the grandchildren. They had a schedule on the refrigerator that looked like something you’d see at the airport.
Adam’s football games, Alison’s soccer games, Chase and Connor’s baseball games, Sophie’s basketball and soccer games, Kevin’s football games, and Chloe’s cheerleading competitions. They went to all of them.
He used to compare himself to other people who seemingly had a lot more money than he did. But he one day realized he didn’t want to trade places with any of them.
Tom was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in the spring of 2008. When he got sick, he took the perspective that life’s cruel fate had spun the wheel and said that someone in the Kirby family was going to get cancer. If someone had to get it, he was glad it was him.
It progressively took its toll on him, making him sick, and weak, much more frail than he had ever been in his life. He didn’t want to die, but he was ready, so long as he knew everyone would be okay.
On November 10, 2008, at the age of 73, Thomas B. Kirby lost his battle with cancer. But his legacy lives on through the law firm he established more than four decades ago.