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Tom Y. Sawyer | 1927-2008

Plant City's Tom Sawyer wanted to be a country lawyer

PLANT CITY — He was Southern farm boy with a famous name. But Tom Sawyer, who went on to become one of Plant City's most prominent lawyers, wasn't named for the Mark Twain character.

"He was born in Enterprise, Ala., and my grandparents didn't name him right away," said Mr. Sawyer's son, Gary. "Their neighbor owned a general store and there was a line of clothes for kids at the time called Tom Sawyer. Their neighbor took the label from one of the boxes and put in on my father's crib, just for a joke. The doctor came to the house and saw the box and put that name on the birth certificate."

That's the family lore, at least. But wherever the name came from, Mr. Sawyer — whose first name was actually Tom, not Thomas — loved the reaction he got from people when he introduced himself.

"He enjoyed it his whole life," his son said. "He especially liked it when he met someone else with a name like his. When he was at the University of Georgia, there was a teacher named Paul Revere. He loved that."

Mr. Sawyer died May 9 of congestive heart failure. He was 80 and had been in poor health for several years.

His built an outstanding law career in Plant City even though he got a late start.

He had graduated from the University of Georgia with a business degree and had a 10-year career as a credit manager for a fertilizer company before he started law school.

In the meantime, he had married and started a family.

He and his wife, Betty, who had known each other since they were 12 years old, already had three children before Mr. Sawyer went back to school.

After he got his law degree in 1962, Mr. Sawyer and his family moved to Plant City.

He liked the area because Plant City was a small town with the rapidly growing city of Tampa nearby. And his agricultural background made him attractive to a local law firm.

He spent the rest of his life in Plant City, working first for law firms and finally starting a practice of his own.

As Plant City grew, Mr. Sawyer become one of the people who shaped it.

With some friends, he started the Plant City Swim Club, which built an Olympic-sized pool at a time when the area had no good public pools.

"Literally hundreds of kids learned how to swim there," his son said.

He also served as president of the Plant City Library Board for many years.

"All he always wanted was to be a country lawyer," his son said.

"He didn't have a specialty. He wanted to be able to help anyone who walked through his door, whether they needed to write up a will or they were getting sued or they wanted a divorce. I remember him coming home with a crate of strawberries or a flat of eggs and I'd ask where he got them and he'd say, 'Well, somebody couldn't pay their bill.' "

Mr. Sawyer is survived by his wife, Betty; his sons, Gary, Tom Jr. and Steve; a daughter, Sue Ann Pinson; a sister, Dorothy McGill; eight grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

Marty Clear can be reached at

Plant City's Tom Sawyer wanted to be a country lawyer 05/15/08 [Last modified: Thursday, May 15, 2008 5:33pm]
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