Thomas Archibald did not plan to stay in Hillsboro after getting married in 1953. But he accepted a youth minister position, bought the WSRW radio station a few years later, and never left. He died Sunday morning.
“It’s sad because he did a lot behind the scenes that not a lot of people knew about, but the community really benefited from his generosity,” said John Barney, who was hired by Archibald to work at WSRW in 1995 and still works for Clear Channel, which purchased WSRW in 1999.
Archibald’s wife of 63 years, Susan Evelyn (Dorton) Archibald, died Dec. 20, 2016. She was 88.
Some of his former employees said Tuesday that Archibald could seem tough on the exterior, but they said that is not how he really was.
“He and Sue, they were really some of the nicest people you ever wanted to meet,” Barney said. “If you didn’t know him, he could be rough around the edges, but Tom had a soft side to him that he didn’t want people to see. But we got to see that a little, especially when he sold the station.
“He was kind of a mentor to me in a lot of ways. I am successful now because of what I learned from him and Ernie Blankenship early on in radio.”
Archibald’s wife was born on the family near Danville in 1928. She met her future husband when she was attending school at Milligan College in Tennessee. They were married on July 24, 1953 at the Danville Church of Christ and Tom planned to return to Tennessee that fall to continue graduate studies. But he was offered the job as a youth minister, accepted it, and became an icon in the community.
“Tom was a great guy. I probably learned more from Tom about the business aspect of radio than anybody,” said Herb Day, who was hired for the first of two times by Archibald in 1975. “He had a huge influence on me. He even preached my mother’s funeral.”
Day said he was about 18 when he started working at WSRW.
“I was just kid. Tom was one of those guys who could scare the pants off of you, and he did that for a while. But after I kind of understood what was going on, we got along really well because he knew I finally caught on to him,” Day joked.
Will Parr was already working for WSRW when Archibald purchased the station with Mack Saur in 1959. Parr worked for the station all 40 years that Archibald owned it, and still works for Clear Channel today.
Parr said he spoke the first words on WSRW on July 15, 1956 when Dave Winslow owned the station, but a couple years later Winslow inherited $1 million from his father in Cleveland and gave up radio.
One Sunday morning around that time Parr said Archibald came to the station to do a church program. He said that when the show was over Archibald said he’d like to get into the radio business. He said that about two hours later he received a call telling him Archibald and Saur, who also owned a newspaper in Leesburg, were talking about buying WSRW and wanted to know if Parr would work for them.
The two bought the radio station in 1959, Saur died six months later, Parr said, and Archibald took over.
“Anything I did, Tom never questioned, as long as I kept it clean. That was all he asked,” Parr said. “He was not a boss, he was family. It was like working for my dad really, but I was older than him. He was just a perfect gentleman all the way.”
Leslie Ramsey worked for Archibald at WSRW three different times, first in 1967 and last in 2001.
“I would say he was very progressive,” Ramsey said, adding Archibald once told her women were going to be the next big thing in radio and television.
“They were always so supportive, both he and Sue,” she added. “He was just a great guy to work for. He was always ready to listen. He didn’t rant and rave. He was great to listen to you and take a situation under advisement before making a decision.”
Parr said WSRW made Hillsboro the community it is today. He said that Archibald carried his ministerial background with him through four decades of owning the radio station, but that Archibald never pushed religion on anybody.
“He just wanted to keep things clean,” Parr said. “I can’t say enough about Tom Archibald. He was just a great man.”
Arrangements were incomplete Tuesday at the Turner & Son Funeral Home in Hillsboro, but owner Craig Turner said a memorial service is being planned later.
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or on Twitter @13gillilandj.