They were hiking buddies for sure, and world travelers, and hard-working professionals who made a life in their own backyard of Brevard so they could stay close to their aging parents. But most of all they were partners in life for 47 years—34 as husband and wife—until he died last year on Sept. 1, 17 days before his 79th birthday.
“I met him through my landlady who also worked at the law office where I wound up,” said Hazel Hawkins, 75, of her late husband Tom Hawkins, in whose memory she established the Tom and Hazel Hawkins Endowed Scholarship through a planned estate gift of more than $121,000. “She was telling me what a nice guy he was, and one thing led to another. He was through with his school and he said he had spent so long trying to get his degree, working his tail off, he hadn’t had time to think about dating. So, when we met we just kind of hit it off.”
That was in 1970. Tom Hawkins was working full time for DuPont in Brevard and going to college, having enrolled in WCU’s In-Service Program, which was designed to help employees of area businesses and industries earn their degrees in business administration. Tom Hawkins graduated from WCU in May 1970. He already had an associate of arts degree and had served two years in the U.S. Army, from 1962-64, working on a missile program in the southwestern United States, Hawkins said. When he was discharged, he returned to DuPont.
“Several of his colleagues out at DuPont also were going to Western under the In-Service Program,” said Hawkins, who graduated from WCU with degrees in Spanish and education in 1965. “There were classes at Enka and at Western and at Asheville. So, several nights a week, he was going somewhere for classes and on Saturdays to Western. He really worked very hard to get his degree. This was one of the reasons I wanted to do the scholarship. Also, we both appreciated the opportunity to obtain an education that was fairly close to our homes and attainable with some real effort.”
In 1994, Tom Hawkins was diagnosed with kidney cancer, which curbed the couple’s adventurous lifestyle, but did not stop it. Even after one of Tom Hawkins’ legs was shortened because of surgery to remove a tumor, he continued to travel and hike. “He kept right on trucking,” Hawkins said. “It was hard to hold that man down. He just kept on going. Every two to three years, tumors cropped up somewhere else.”
A two-week rail pass in Europe in the early 1990s left the couple gasping for more. “That was so much fun,” Hawkins said. “We were going so fast we weren’t really seeing everything we wanted to see. We were taking notes as to where we wanted to go back and spend more time, but of course, life changes for you. My advice is do all you can do when you can do it.”
For 23 years Tom Hawkins battled kidney cancer, a fight not lost on his wife, who knew her husband’s tenacity had gotten him through college while working full time. “He graduated magna cum laude, which made me so ashamed of my own self,” Hawkins said. “I thought, here I am at the dorm. I’m not trying to run back and forth and work. I did have part-time jobs, but nothing like he did. I thought this scholarship would be a good way to honor him. It would have been so much easier for him if he’d had that.”
Hawkins’ gift pledge will provide scholarship support to students from Transylvania and Henderson counties. It is part of WCU’s “Lead the Way” comprehensive fundraising campaign inspired by the leadership of the late Chancellor David O. Belcher. Belcher and wife Susan announced last October their pledge of $1.23 million in financial support for the “Lead the Way” effort, an announcement that has resulted in numerous other contributions.
To give to the Lead the Way Campaign, please visit here or call 828-227-7124.
Story by: Melanie Threlkeld McConnellMAKE A GIFT