A few months ago, we were asked to name a great Memphian.

We named Thomas Boggs.

Few words are as carelessly used today as the word, great. And yet, there’s no other word to describe Thomas, and his death leaves a gaping hole in the heart of our city.

He stood up for the things that mattered in Memphis and he acted decisively on so many issues that defined our city. He was a leader in the transformation of the Memphis Zoo, he was a leader for the tourism industry, he was a leader in saving Memphis in May when it teetered on the brink of bankruptcy, he was a leader in the local restaurant association and inspired its philanthropic philosophy, and he was a leader for political activities aimed at creating a progressive climate for change.

Great To Good

However, there’s another adjective that described Thomas equally well – good – and it was his innate goodness that defined a generosity of spirit that exhibited itself in his boundless friendship to so many people and his contributions to so many charities that no one can recount them all.

Thomas had a good memory, and because of it, he never met a person that he felt competent to judge. He remembered his own struggles, the days when he left University of Memphis, and unclear about his priorities and without direction, he joined the Memphis music scene.

Despite his involvement in one of Memphis’ seminal bands, The Boxtops, he decided that his growing young family needed more than a musician’s life, and so eight years after failing at University of Memphis, he pleaded to get back in. If there was any question about his commitment, he did earn his degree, and he did it while working 50 hours a week loading freight and working weekends at T.G.I. Friday’s.


He remembered his tough times, and because of it, he saw value in every person, and often went the extra mile to help them fight addiction, hardship and personal difficulties, including hiring them at his restaurants where he could run his own 12-step program for them. If anyone’s life embodied the concept of “there but the grace of God go I,” it was Thomas’.

He felt blessed by his success as a restaurateur, and at the same time, he sometimes seemed incredulous as well. There was a direct, albeit improbable, line from that weekend job at Friday’s to his eventual ownership of Huey’s, and through his uncanny business acumen, he turned a bar on Union Avenue into the template for a chain of popular restaurants throughout Shelby County.

Along the way, there was no detail that was too small for his attention. As he explained it, by paying attention to the details, the big picture gets much clearer. It’s an approach that characterized his approach to his city. It was a rare occasion when Thomas would talk about macro economic issues, because he was much too busy acting on a belief that we can save the world one person at a time.


As a result, he felt compelled to share his good fortune with so many others. He was so clear-eyed about the potential for his life to have taken another direction, and because of it, he often acted as a roadblock to others at risk. He could also exercise the kind of tough love that turned so many lives around.

In the life of the city, he was everywhere. It was as hard to find a local charity that was not a beneficiary of his help as it was to find a bad hamburger at Huey’s.

Yet, for a man who based his career on Memphis’ best hamburger, Thomas loved great food. He was never happier than during a classic meal at Paul Bocuse’s restaurant outside Lyon, France, particularly when the legendary chef came to his table for a photograph.

Measure Of A Man

That was Thomas. He was equally comfortable talking to a world-class chef or a homeless guy in a downtown alley in Memphis.

The greatest gift that he could bestow on anyone was his friendship, and once it was given, there was no need to ever question it. In the midst of crisis or tragedy or challenge, there was never a question where he would be – standing with you in the line of fire. He was at his absolute best when things were at their absolute worse.

All that he did in and for his city was inspired by one thing – his family. He proudly described the talented way that his daughters worked for his restaurants, how his exemplary teenage sons exemplified all that was important to him, and how his remarkable wife, Wight, gave his life purpose.


Yes, Thomas Boggs’ life was a remarkable Horatio Alger story, but his business success only hinted at the real reasons that it is our opinion that his life was marked by greatness. More to the point, it was his unshakeable humanitarian, compassionate and loving attitude toward his hometown and the people in it.

This has been a difficult week, but one thing is certain to us right now: if there is a Satan in the world, his form is cancer.