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Harley jars fond memories of Tom McKelroy

By Joel McNeece

Standing in Bumpus Harley Davidson in Memphis last week trying on helmets I couldn’t help but think of Tom McKelroy.

My first ever visit to Bumpus, Tom and I rode our motorcycles up there. I was in the market to buy a new Harley and I think Tom was more excited about the idea than me.

Tom and I discovered our common love for motorcycles, more specifically Harley Davidsons, shortly after we both moved to Bruce. I had just married my wife Lisa and was a stranger in town. Tom had left a bank presidency in Memphis to return home to lead the M&F Bank on the Bruce Square.

I discovered upon first meeting Tom, once you got him started talking about bikes, particularly Harleys, you couldn’t get him to stop.

A lot of the miles on my Harley today were accumulated riding side-by-side with Tom seemingly all over the South, but especially around Memphis.

For a few years, I even wore a helmet he loaned me that he told me to keep and still hangs on a peg in my shop.

The day I ordered my current Harley, almost exactly 17 years ago, Tom and his wife Judy drove Lisa and I up to Bumpus and then took us to the East End Grill, just over a mile away toward Wolfchase. Lisa and I had lunch in that same East End, one of two in the Memphis area, last week and I ordered the same thing I always do — the shrimp basket.

I think of Tom often and anytime I climb on my Harley. He was my first big feature after joining the family at The Journal — “The Biking Banker.” It took him about half a second to agree to do it. I have a dusty picture of him,  the late Paul Tyler and me on a shelf in my shop showing us standing in front of an old Harley shop in Nashville where we were attending the Tennessee State H.O.G. Rally.

But Tom’s memory isn’t just tied to motorcycles. Every Wednesday at the Bruce Rotary Club’s “bad table,” the seat on my left sits empty. That was Tom’s.

We reminisce about him weekly, as we do the late Gene Welch who sat on my right and the late Bob Cooper, who sat across from me.

Daniel Hathorne sat with us for several years after Gene’s passing, but Daniel is now in Union County. The once boisterous “bad table” is down to myself, Bill Cooper, Bill Ross and James Wright.

We still have our moments, but we’re not as rowdy as we once were, and I haven’t had anybody to talk Harleys with at the table since Tom’s death in 2009.

I know Tom would have a comment about my new helmet that is a bit more protective than the tiny “skull caps” we wore years ago. He would be thrilled to see how well I’ve maintained my Heritage Softail Classic, although he would probably be pushing me to order something new. I don’t want another bike, but I wish he was still around for the conversation.

Joel McNeece is publisher of The Calhoun County Journal in Bruce. You may email him at joelmcneece@gmail.com.