William Byers Tomlinson

When my great-grandfather, William Byers Tomlinson, was facing gall bladder surgery, he penned his own obituary draft to spare his colleagues the trouble. A typewritten draft of this was in a cracker tin with other letters from my ancestors. My transcription of this appears below.

The Ripley (Ohio) Bee, Wednesday, June 17, 1914:

W. B. Tomlinson, veteran newspaper man of this city, has always been regarded as a man of good nerve, a man tempered to face any crisis with composure and resolution. When the time came to submit to an operation, delicate and fraught with serious possibilities, he did not falter, says The Portsmouth Times. That same optimism and bravery which characterized life's battles remained with him when he went into the most serious moment of his life, and he won.

Suffering with a clogged gall duct, Mr. Tomlinson went into the operating room at Christ's hospital, Cincinnati, as a last resort to save himself from the touch of grim death. The operation was successful and the pioneer newspaper writer is once more on the road to recovery. Mr. Tomlinson, genial and affable at all times, is slowly returning to that degree of health which will permit his return shortly to Portsmouth with his characteristic warm hand-shake and cheery smile.

That Mr. Tomlinson is a man of iron nerve and is ever ready to answer life's summons when his Master calls, is evidenced in the act just prior to the operation. Aware that his chances of recovery depended on the success of his operation, Mr. Tomlinson thought not of himself, but his fellow newspaper men. Years of experience taught him that an obituary is difficult to secure, and a much more difficult and unpleasant article to write, especially where a companion and friend is concerned. With thoughts of his fellow newspaper men in his mind, to ease their work and relieve them of a painful duty, he penned his own obituary and mailed it to the Times. So extraordinary are the circumstances surrounding the act and his contemplated death, couched in his own language, Mr. Tomlinson's written obituary to the Times, that it is published as follows:

Underwent a surgical operation for gravel in the bladder at Christ Hospital, Cincinnati, and the result was mortal.

He had been in Cincinnati several weeks, preparing for the ordeal.

Mr. Tomlinson was 67 years of age, born at Ripley, Ohio, March 23, 1847.

His life reached back among many important and interesting events during and before the Civil War. At the age of 14 he ran away to join the army, but was too young for admission. However he saw considerable severe service in border warfare, and or a short period at the close of the contest. His father was killed on account of his war service and earnest devotion to the Union cause. These things he seldom spoke of, referring to his own service as trivial, and saying that people of today never believed the half they heard of the awful experiences of those days. After the death of his father, young Tomlinson left school and went to work in the old Ripley Bee office, which he afterward owned. He life has been ? (devoted) [sic] mostly to journalism. He established papers at Ripley, Ironton, Huntington, Hillsboro, and other places.

October 6, 1869, he was married to Miss Alice F. Kellin, of Catlettsburg, Ky., who died at their home in Ironton, Dec. 4, 1884. Their children are Mrs. Nettie F. Lane, of Hillsboro; Frank Tomlinson, Leslie Tomlinson, Mrs. Ola T. Herms, Portsmouth. Mrs. Herms died some years ago.

In 1886 Mr. Tomlinson married Miss Carrie Thomas, of Ironton. To them were born Mrs. Ross Donahue [Donohoe], now of Grimes Avenue; Mrs. Chas. E. Pray, of the Home Exchange, and Miss Mary Tomlinson. Mrs. Tomlinson died Feb. 9, 1905.

Mr. Tomlinson once represented Lawrence county [sic] in the Ohio Legislature and was several times commissioned as Lieutenant and Captain in the O. N. G.

He was a member of Bigelow M. E. Church and of the G. A. R.

(Funeral services.)

A reprinted notice from an unidentified newspaper appears in a chapbook of poetry by
W. B. Tomlinson:

Cincinnati, May 30.—At Christ Hospital, this morning, surgeons Gordon F. McKim and Wm. Graff performed an extremely critical operation, which in its results has broken all previous records, removing from the bladder a stone measuring three and three-quarters inches in length and two and a half inches in diameter. Weight within a slight fraction of three-quarters of a pound, avordupois. The patient was Comrade W. B. Tomlinson, 67, of Portsmouth, Ohio. Should Mr. Tomlinson recover, he will have good reason to remember Decoration Day, 1914.—News Item

William Byers Tomlinson did recover. He died December 31, 1917, at Cincinnati, Ohio, and was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Ironton, Ohio. His family letter collection eventually landed in a cracker tin on a hallway bookshelf in the home of his daughter, Florence Adele Tomlinson Donohoe, my grandmother. —Pat Donohoe, 1/27/2011

Home | Artist | Art Gallery | Writer | Civil War Letters & Book | Contact
Visit Pat's Blog—"The Backstory"

Pat Donohoe William Byers Tomlinson 1
Pat Donohoe William Byers Tomlinson 2
Pat Donohoe William Byers Tomlinson 3
Pat Donohoe William Byers Tomlinson 4
Pat Donohoe-Civil War Project link Pat Donohoe-Writer link Pat Donohoe-Artist link Pat Donohoe-Art Gallery link Pat Donohoe-Contact at email patdonohoe@frontiernet.net Pat Donohoe-Home page