The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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Thomas Jefferson Cockram - A Real Hero

By Bob Heafner © 1984-2012

Issue: March, 1984

tommyTommy Cockram at his usual seat, eating breakfast at the Mountain House Restaurant in Meadows of Dan.Any frequent visitor to Meadows of Dan, Virginia has, more likely than not, met or seen Thomas Jefferson (Tommy) Cockram. This time of year he’s usually wearing a heavy brown overcoat, boots and a toboggan. Since he doesn’t drive, he can often be seen walking along US Highway 58 between Vesta and Meadows of Dan. Only extremely poor weather conditions will cause him to indicate he prefers to ride the three miles he travels daily.

He’s a regular diner at the Mountain House Restaurant, usually sitting at the counter on the last stool on the left. He almost always eats alone, but his wide smile and friendly face welcomes conversation from friends and strangers alike. Tommy’s never met a stranger when a good conversation is at stake.

At 67 years old, he can probably walk most men half his age into the ground. On his daily walk to Meadows of Dan or Vesta (Several miles each way) he carries a sack and picks up roadside litter along the way. Many a lost hubcap has been reunited with its owner by Tommy.

Look closely the next time you drive US 58 between Vesta and Meadows of Dan and notice how clean and free of litter our area is. Tommy deserves most of the credit for our clean road banks.

Tommy Cockram by Willard GayheartTommy Cockram as drawn by pencil artist, Willard Gayheart.Tommy graduated from the old Meadows of Dan School which used to stand where Parkway Car Care Center is now. Because of his outstanding scholastic achievements, Dorn Spangler, who was his teacher, encouraged him to continue his education. Mr. Spangler assisted him in enrolling in the Martha Berry College near Rome, Georgia. His primary collegiate interests where chemistry and history. Even today he questions and explores topics with the analytical mind of a scientist.

His college education was cut short by World War II. Always quick to respond to a plea for help, Tommy answered his country’s call and joined the United States Navy Air Force where he served as an aviation machinist mate. After his term of duty, Tommy came home to stay. Odd jobs such as cutting firewood and other assorted farm work has since supplied the majority of his livelihood.

On a recent cold February day, Tommy made the trip to Meadows of Dan to pay his electric bill at the bank. The total amount due for a month was only $6.50. If this seems low, bear in mind that Tommy only has electric lights, a radio and a television set. The literature which accompanied his electric bill stated that donations were needed to provide electricity for those less fortunate. In his battered old overcoat, Tommy waited patiently while the bank personnel decided on the correct procedure to accept his donation on behalf of the needy. Along with his $6.50 payment he added an extra $5.00 to be applied to the bills of those who are less fortunate. The banks employees were at a loss regarding what to do. NO ONE had ever offered to pay more than necessary to the power company. But Tommy Cockram, as has been his tradition all his life, had heard a plea for help and responded.

I tire of hearing people insinuate that there are no real heroes anymore. It is simply not true. For years we have manufactured larger that life heroes from among the rich and famous. And far too often we’ve lost those illusions of heroes as they become victims of their own personalities and our exaggerated expectations. The real heroes are the Tommy Cockram’s of the world. The people who do all they can in their own quiet way to make life a little better for those around them. They are the people who care about people. Thomas Jefferson Cockram will probably not make it to the history books nor will he ever be famous, but he is a hero; a hero that Meadows of Dan can be proud of and that I personally am very proud to know.

(Editors note - Tommy will be 68 years old on March 13, 1984. If you would like to send him a card, his address is Route 1, Meadows of Dan, Virginia 24120.)

Update 2005 - After the above article was published in 1984, Tommy received birthday cards from all across America and numerous birthday cakes were delivered to him at the Mountain House Restaurant in Meadows of Dan. Tourists visiting the area made it a point to look up Tommy just to shake his hand and say hello. Tommy even took on a new stature among local folks but Tommy never changed; he was still the same tender hearted and caring individual when at 88 years old he was struck by a car and killed on Thursday, November 25, 2004.

On May 1, 2005, the community of Meadows of Dan celebrated the first annual, Tommy Cockram Memorial Day. It was a day devoted to raising money and food for the area's less fortunate. Renowned Appalachian artist, Willard Gayheart even created one of his famous pencil drawings of Tommy and donated the original to be raffled off to help generate funds for the event and a limited edition of 100 numbered prints were made available for purchase with all proceeds going to the fund raising event to help the needy. Tommy would be pleased.