MOUNT VERNON — Mount Vernon lost one of its great icons, and friends, with the passing of Tom Metcalf, 77, on Friday morning.
Usually described in print as “local entrepreneur” or “local businessman,” Metcalf was much more than that. He was one of the prime movers and shakers in Mount Vernon, and for Mount Vernon. He believed in the city’s business district and he believed in what a strong and vibrant economy could do for the community.
He was honored more than once by the community. He won the Paul Slaughter Award, the Heritage Centre Association’s Walter Rudin Award, the Exchange Club Golden Deeds Award and was named parade marshal for the Mount Vernon Christmas Parade in 2002, to name just a few honors. But Metcalf believed his greatest honor was to serve Mount Vernon.
“I told Tom when he was given the chamber award that he is so instrumental in not only maintaining business in downtown, but he personally takes such initiative in supporting, whether it be a city project or a heritage project or an individual project, he was always quick to jump on board and support it in any way he could,” said Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Mavis.
Metcalf served on several boards including the Knox County Convention and Visitors Bureau and The Woodward Development Corp. One of Metcalf’s attributes was his ability to constantly be looking forward and knowing how decisions made today would affect the world we lived in tomorrow.
“Tom was always that proactive — think of the future, think of what’s coming next. He always had the future in mind and that’s what made Tom so essential to those board positions. He was always looking forward,” said Pat Crow, director of the Knox County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“Tom Metcalf was one of my favorite people I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. I don’t think in the history of this community you could find a more loyal advocate for Mount Vernon and Knox County. His easy way and well placed good humor spanned generations and made everyone feel at ease. We are all going to miss him very much,” said Corby Wise, advertising manager of the News and HCA board member.
Life’s path was not an easy one for Metcalf. He faced a number of challenges throughout the years, but always maintained his easy smile and hearty laugh through it all.
In an interview with the Mount Vernon News a few years ago, Metcalf spoke of his good friend Helen Zelkowitz, who constantly referred to her numerous “extensions” in life.
Metcalf had his first extension when he was 20. He was seriously injured in an automobile accident while riding with his father.
“There was a car on top of me,” he said. “Four people lifted a 1952 DeSoto off its wheels, which is impossible to do, to get me out.”
He was rushed to the hospital, where he was in a coma, his pelvis broken and his leg in traction. Eventually, he recovered but he did spend several years trying to save his leg. It was eventually amputated.
In 1996, he suffered a heart attack, from which he recovered. In 2005 he was diagnosed with colon cancer. Since then, he struggled with other health problems but always kept positive and worked toward the future.
Through it all, he never let his personal challenges slow him down.
“It seems like I owe [Mount Vernon] a lot,” Metcalf said. “I got through all of it so therefore I owe it something. Because something got me through it all.”
The name Tom Metcalf is nearly synonymous with The Alcove Restaurant. It was this establishment that brought him back time after time to follow his passion of economic viability in downtown as well as fuel his fire for the social environment he truly thrived upon.
“To me, it’s one of the anchors of downtown,” he said at one time. “It’s very vital to the economic success of our Main Street.”
“The Alcove is Mount Vernon. It touches everybody,” Metcalf said at a later date. “To me, it means more than any other one building. The Alcove is government, it’s social, it’s all those things.”
Metcalf was also instrumental in bringing a conference center to the city — an addition that offers perks to the city and the county.
“This was essential to keep us in the main stream of meetings and banquets,” Crow said about the Dan Emmett Conference Center. “We did not have a facility in Mount Vernon that could seat 400 people for a banquet. That facility put us on the map, so to speak from a tourism perspective.”
“He was always insightful and just passionate about Mount Vernon. He was so full of pride for our city and would do anything to capture that and share it with the world,” said Matt Starr, chairman of the KCCVB board.
Along with all the business contacts, social connections and organizational involvements, it was the friendships Tom forged with the residents of Mount Vernon and Knox County that will truly leave a lasting impression and an empty space in hearts all over.
“Tom was always your friend. Regardless of all the complexities, even controversial things, Tom was always the peacemaker, the friend. Tom was accepting of everybody and that’s what made Tom who he was,” Crow said.
“I will also miss him personally. A mayor needs that kind of initiative from a variety of people. Tom Metcalf provided that. He was a big part of downtown for a long time. Tom Metcalf played a full ballgame there. He stayed the full length of his contract. He has quite a history with the success of downtown,” Mavis said.