Thomas James (Tom) Carson was born at Stilwell, Oklahoma, on March 6, 1921, the son of Col James Carson and Mary Louise (Holland) Carson, and departed this life on September 29, 2019 at the age of 98 years, 6 months, 23 days. Tom was a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, his mother an original enrollee.
Tom graduated from Stilwell High School in 1938 at age 17, and from Oklahoma A&M College (now Oklahoma State University) with Honors in 1942, with a bachelor’s degree in Accounting. Concurrently he completed the ROTC program there and graduated as a Second Lieutenant in the Army Air Corp. Upon graduating, Tom went straight to active duty military, serving in the intelligence and administrative offices of the 48th Bombardment Squadron, 7th Air Force, in the Pacific Theater of World War II through the conclusion of the war. Tom remained in the Air Force Reserves, serving as the Air Force Academy liaison officer for this area, and retiring in 1987 as a Lieutenant Colonel. Tom was very proud of his years of military service.
After returning home from the war, Tom married the love of his life Edna Mae Ford in 1946, and they were happily married for nearly 60 years until her death in 2006.
Tom was a banker. In 1937 at the age of 16 he started as a teller at the Bank of Commerce in Stilwell at a salary of $30 per month. He became a Director of the bank in 1946, later serving as the Chairman of the Board for over 3 decades.
Tom was an entrepreneur. In 1946 he established Carson Loan and Investment Company, officing in the same downtown storefront his entire life. He was a licensed real estate broker and realtor, and participated in real estate development. Businesses he owned include an insurance agency, new and used car dealerships, dry goods stores, and a jewelry store, to name some. He was instrumental in developing Rio Grande Foods Inc. in McAllen, TX, and Stilwell Foods Inc., and in their subsequent merger with Flowers Foods Inc., which brought a Fortune 500 employer to Stilwell, creating many jobs over the years. He was involved with other venture capital projects as well.
Tom was a rancher. He was very proud of his Oklahoma Centennial Ranch in Adair County and his reputation herd of beef cattle developed over many years. In addition to his own ranching, in 1971 he and Raymond Bradford formed the Green Country Angus Company and developed a reputation herd of registered Angus cattle. Along with L. D. “Buzzy” Hume and associates he formed the East Oklahoma Cattle Company and ran cattle in Kansas and Colorado and a feed lot in Colorado. Later, Tom and Darryl Lockard formed the CXL Cattle Company and ran a herd of Gelbvieh cattle.
Tom was a philanthropist. Throughout his life he supported many charitable organizations and causes both individually and through the charitable foundation he and his wife Edna Mae created and funded. Starting under their direction and which will continue long after their deaths, the Tom J. and Edna Mae Carson Foundation strongly supports religious, educational, and community organizations, notably Stilwell First Christian Church, Oklahoma State University, Northeastern State University, John Brown University, Cookson Hills Christian School, and local primary and secondary school districts. Tom and his foundation always provided funding for scholarships. Notable projects of support include the Edna M. Carson Community Park, the Cherokee Heritage Center, and the community performing arts and storm shelter building currently under construction on the campus of Stilwell High School.
Tom was inducted into the Oklahoma State University College of Business Hall of Fame in 1982, and was named a Stilwell High School Outstanding Alumnus in 1995. He was a member of both the American Legion Post 102 and Flint Masonic Lodge #11 AF&AM for over 70 years, and was the last surviving charter member of the Stilwell Kiwanis Club. He served for many years as a deacon and as the treasurer for First Christian Church.
Tom was preceded in death by his parents and wife Edna Mae, sister Barbara Jean Waters, daughter Rita Kathleen Fowlkes, and two grandsons Col Wade Fowlkes and Grant Carson Fowlkes. He was also predeceased by many in-laws, cousins, nieces, and nephews. He is survived by two sons, James Ford Carson and wife Pamela, and Drew Thomas Carson and wife Lynna; nine grandchildren, Clay Fowlkes and wife Tuyen, Chad Fowlkes, Sarah Green and husband James, Stephanie LaCaze and husband Ryan, J. Nicholas Carson, Adriana Scott and husband Daniel, Zachary Carson, William Carson, and Elleyt Belote; and seven great grandchildren, Valerie Fowlkes, Brian Fowlkes, Jillian Fowlkes, Gabriela Torres, Chazeus LaCaze, Magnus LaCaze, and Elijah Scott; special friends of the family Suzie Thompson and Sandy Starr; and many nieces, nephews, and other family members. Tom’s family would like to give special recognition and thanks to Joe Ritter, Tom’s right hand man in everything for 50 years; and to Good Shepherd Hospice, Jeff Jenkins, Faye Butler, Vickie Morris, and the many caregivers.
Tom’s funeral is a private, family-only ceremony. A public memorial and celebration of his life will be held in the near future.
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