Former Marion County NAACP president Ed Tomlin dies at 63
Published: Tuesday, January 17, 2012 at 9:35 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 17, 2012 at 9:35 p.m.
Ed Tomlin, a longtime civil rights activist and former president of the Marion County NAACP, died suddenly on Monday. He was 63.
Tomlin, a native of Ocala, suffered an apparent heart attack after he returned home from a day of fishing, according to his family.
He was the father of Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin.
"He loved people. He was very knowledgeable, outgoing and loved fishing," said Mazella Tomlin, Ed Tomlin's wife of 12 years.
Tomlin was speaking with his brother, Michael Tomlin, when he collapsed.
"I love him. He wasn't just my brother, he was my best friend. We talked about everything. We talked every night," he said.
Tomlin took the reins of the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 2003 and helped shepherd the organization back to stability after several years of leadership changes and a dwindling membership.
"He added a lot to the NAACP. He was a leader and had the ability to draw people to him. He worked well with a broad category of people across race lines. He was a very thoughtful person and had a great knowledge of the community history and civil rights history," said Whitfield Jenkins, another local NAACP past president, who worked with Tomlin.
Tomlin resigned from the post in June 2006, citing health issues. Despite his retirement, he continued to champion civil rights and community issues locally, even as recently as three weeks ago.
In late December, Tomlin attended a meeting with Ocala Mayor Kent Guinn to voice his objections over Guinn's nomination of Greg Graham for Ocala police chief without community input. Graham was eventually approved for the post and was sworn in Tuesday.
"I was shocked to hear the news" of his death, said former OPD Chief Sam Williams on Tuesday. "I considered him a friend."
Tomlin was on the 2003 search committee that selected Williams, the second black man to lead the department.
"He was a hard worker trying to get things equal in the city of Ocala. He worked on a lot of civil rights issues. He was a very good citizen, and he was very concerned about the way people in Ocala are treated," said Mary Sue Rich, an Ocala City Council member since 1995.
Tomlin's participation in civil rights causes started early. He was an NAACP member since the age of 13 and protested segregation in Ocala as part of the NAACP Youth Council in the 1960s.
He was a quiet man, but had a big presence.
"He displayed statesmanship. He used to talk about the difference between a politician and a statesman. The way he related to people, the way he approached issues and problem solving was very statesman-like. He was very courageous, but at the same time he gave people an opportunity to give their opinion," said Jenkins, who knew Tomlin since his high school years, when Tomlin was a football standout.
Tomlin played football at the former Howard High School in Ocala, where he graduated in 1964. He attended Hampton Institute, now Hampton University, in Hampton, Va., and was drafted by the Baltimore Colts in 1968. That year, he played eight games with the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League.
His son, Mike Tomlin, the current head football coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, could not be reached Tuesday for comment.
At Hampton, Ed Tomlin majored in chemistry and later developed a chemical formula used to paint bicycle frames so they would reflect light at night. Tomlin and a friend formed their own paint business, according to Tomlin's sister, Alice.
Ed Tomlin returned to Ocala in the mid-1990s and worked as a business manager for various Ocala businesses, including as assistant warehouse manager at ClosetMaid.
He also became involved in the community.
"He had so many good qualities about him. He cared about the important things in life. His legacy will go beyond his leadership with the NAACP. He genuinely cared about young people and cared about his faith," Jenkins said. "He was a guy that a lot of us are going to miss."
Tomlin is survived by five sisters, a brother and two sons. Between them, he and Mazella have seven children and 16 grandchildren.
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