The businessman and philanthropist died earlier this month after a long battle with pancreatic cancer.
By Allison Joyner
Over the weekend, hundreds of mourners gathered to honor 100 Black Men of America chairman Thomas “Tommy” Dortch, who died at age 72.
People worldwide traveled to New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, where Dortch was chairman of the board, to celebrate his life during a homegoing celebration.
In the weeks leading up to his death, Dortch said, “I have stage four pancreatic cancer and I’ve been in treatment ever since,” during an episode of the “Telling Our Story Atlanta Business League” podcast at the beginning of February.
“Even though we all knew Tommy was sick, it doesn’t make it any easier to accept,” said Leona Barr-Davenport, President of the Atlanta Business League (ABL).
For over 50 years, Dortch served young people and people of color in Atlanta and Georgia. A native of Tocca, Ga., Dortch attended Fort Valley State University. He later continued his studies at Clark Atlanta University (CAU) and Georgia State University as a Ford Fellow in Urban Administration.
ReadMore: City council celebrates ‘Tommy DortchDay’ with proclamation celebrating legacy
In 1974, Tommy became the associate director of the Georgia Democratic Party. He became the first African American State Director for U.S. Senator Sam Nunn a few years later.
He was the CEO of the TWD consulting firm. In addition, he served several organizations, including the NAACP, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity and the ABL, where he served as chairman for three separate terms in three different decades.
“He not only led with confidence to invest the amount of time that he had invested not only the ABL but 100 Black Men of America and,” Davenport said. “There is a list of organizations where has served in leadership roles and constantly brought value to the organization.”
Tommy Dortch (above right) burning the Atlanta Business League’s mortgage during their burning ceremony in 2012 clearing the debt on the organization’s main office. (Image provided by ABL).
With its mission to improve the quality of life within communities in Africa and the U.S., the 100 Black Men of America enhances educational and economic opportunities for people of color.
“[The 100] has grown to about 8,000 members, over 125,000 young people in our mentoring program, with 40 percent of our mentees being young ladies because they need positive men in their lives too,” Dortch said. The 100 said that he worked to help others up to his passing.
“Tommy literally lived until he died,” Davenport said. “He continued to give and give and invest and I think it was the thing that fueled him. It was what drove him; it was the engine that fueled him to continue to make a difference.”
During his first term as chairman for the ABL, Dortch hired Davenport as President of the nonprofit that provides opportunities for minority-owned businesses in the Atlanta metro area. Their latest podcast, “Telling Our Story,” speaks with successful Black-owned companies and professionals in the capital city. In episode two, Dortch was interviewed, talking about how his leadership created the legacy he leaves today.
“Tommy was a ‘let’s get it done’ kind of chair,” Davenport said. “He had contacts locally, nationally and internationally and in working with him, he always had a plan; he always had a recommendation; he always had resources. So he expected to get the job done.”
A who’s who of Dortch friends, family and colleagues spoke during his celebration of life, including Nunn, former U.S. Ambassador Andrew Young and Chester Cooper, Deputy Prime Minister for the Commonwealth of the Bahamas. Dr. George French, president of CAU, represented his contributions to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) and was honored with the TWD Institute in his honor before his passing.
Find more pictures: Celebration of Life for Thomas W. Dortch, Jr. – New Birth Missionary Baptist Church – Feb. 25, 2023
Jazz saxophonist Mike Phillips performed “Amazing Grace” and a song he wrote for Dortch called “Hanging with Mr. D.” Proceeds from the song will be donated to his estate.
The service concluded with New Birth’s Pastor Jamal Bryant giving a riveting eulogy highlighting Dortch’s legacy.
“Attitude is important,” Dortch said. “People must understand that your body is a phenomenal machine just as much as having great doctors and medicine. So with a positive attitude and my faith, I’ve survived to this point.”
Celebration of Life for Thomas W. Dortch, Jr. at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church on Feb. 25, 2023. (Photo by Kelly Jordan.)
“He loved his friends. He loved his family and loved a good fight,” Davenport said. “He didn’t run away from a fight or an opportunity to fight for something and it was always for the good of the community or business owners for an issue.”
When asked how she would describe Dortch in a few words, Davenport told SaportaReport: “servant leader.”
“Contributing to causes bringing people together was his passion,” Davenport said. “It was a part of his makeup and I don’t think he could have lived any other way.”
Dortch is survived by his wife, Carol, his five children, his brothers and sisters and a village of family and friends.
“We will miss him, truly but in missing him, that challenges us to be better — do better — and to lead with purpose,” Davenport concluded.
Click here to listen to the ABL’s “Telling Our Story: Atlanta Business League” podcast featuring Dortch.
See more images of his celebration of life here taken by SaportaReport photographer Kelly Jordan.