By C.J. LOVELACE
10:56 PM EST, December 31, 2012
When he was a kid, just 12 or 13 years old, Thomas C. Newcomer spent time working in the orchards of his hometown of Smithsburg.
A few years before that, Newcomer, now 51, caught the giving bug.
While working with his grandfather on the family farm, Newcomer had a conversation with his grandfather that still resonates in his life, and the lives of others.
“What do you want to do when you grow up?” his grandfather asked.
“I want to travel. I want to see the world,” Newcomer recalled replying. “... All the things that most kids say, you know.”
His grandfather’s reply was life-changing for the young Newcomer: “That’s all fine and good, but how are you going to help your fellow man?”
The question struck a chord in the young Newcomer, and while it’s only one instance of many, that was the kind of upbringing, the foundation that Newcomer credits today for the man he’s become — a man of service, a man of faith, a man of family.
Newcomer, the owner of R. Bruce Carson Jewelers in Hagerstown, has logged countless hours of service in various capacities for numerous organizations in and around Washington County.
He is The Herald-Mail’s 2012 Person of the Year.
As Person of the Year, Newcomer received a crystal bowl, and The Herald-Mail will donate $1,300 in his name to a civic cause of his choice. He chose The Salvation Army.
When Newcomer was first told he had been named The Herald-Mail’s 14th Person of the Year, he joked that the newspaper must have the wrong guy, but later said he was “amazingly humbled” by the honor.
“I was so shocked and surprised,” he said. “I just feel like our community is filled with people who have done magnificent things, just incredible acts of service ... and to be chosen, I was just really surprised and very humbled, honestly.”
The use of the term “humble” is not unusual when friends, family and colleagues talk about Newcomer’s personality, accomplishments and years of service.
Newcomer has served as president of the board of trustees of the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, chairman of United Way of Washington County, Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce, Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission and Greater Hagerstown Committee.
He’s previously served on the boards of the Maryland Symphony Orchestra, Hagerstown YMCA, Hagerstown Rotary Club and Maryland Life magazine and served on the advisory board of the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown.
Newcomer currently is a member of the Hagerstown-Washington County Industrial Foundation (CHIEF) board and the Commission on Judicial Selection for county courts. He remains active with the Greater Hagerstown Committee and the Rotary Club.
“You have a wonderful exemplary person to represent Person of the Year for this community, and it shows the quality of leadership that this area has,” said the director of the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, Rebecca Massie Lane, who nominated Newcomer for the honor.
Previously, Newcomer was the recipient of both Person of the Year and Small Business Person of the Year awards from the Chamber of Commerce and received the Jesse L. Kagle Jr. Award for his service to the United Way of Washington County.
“When I look at the folks that have received this in the past and the kind of achievements they have brought to the community, no, I don’t feel worthy of this,” Newcomer said.
“I think of so many other people, too, across our community who are just amazing,” he said. “They’ve given up their time, their talent, their resources to make this a better community.”
A man of service
Massie Lane became the director of the museum in August 2008, just as Newcomer began his two-year term as president of the board of trustees.
Moving from Virginia, Massie Lane knew very few people in her new community, but Newcomer — involved with so many volunteer activities — knew many people. Introductions soon followed.
“It made a wonderful kind of way for me to get acquainted to folks in the community,” she said.
As the recession hit hard in 2008, the museum and its endowment fund were not spared, but Newcomer’s leadership and vision helped the organization to continue moving forward in a difficult time, Massie Lane said.
“Here I am, a brand new director, feeling like ‘whoa, what have I stepped into?’” she said. “But his manner was always ‘let’s take action that’s appropriate and prudent,’ and sensitive to the external environment, but always keeping your eye on the mission of the museum, the programs we offer to the community and the people we serve.”
A great communicator and listener with the ability to see all sides of different situations, Newcomer was the driving force during a “dark time,” leading the board of trustees and raising the needed funds to finish the now-enclosed atrium at the museum, Massie Lane said.
With just a little more than $1 million when the recession set in, the museum had more than halfway to go toward its goal of $2.5 million, and doubts began to creep into the minds of some, but not Newcomer’s, she said.
“There was a little knee-quaking at that point, but we had commitments that we had made and set promises so we just started thinking one step at a time,” Massie Lane said.
From there, one piece at a time, the funding fell into place. Through it all, Newcomer’s ability to foster an “upflow of energy” from all different places to support a common goal was tremendous, she said.
Massie Lane recalled a day when she and Newcomer were looking at the museum’s cornerstone, located in the atrium which now encloses the west facade of the building.
The cornerstone reads “1930,” the year after the Wall Street crash that marked the beginning of the Great Depression. Massie Lane drew a comparison to that time, when the museum was established, and Newcomer’s efforts to keep it moving forward.
“That gave us inspiration, too,” she said. “Here’s another dark time, but you can always continue being positive in moving in a good direction.”
A man of faith
Andrew A. Serafini has no biological brothers, “but Tom Newcomer is as close to a brother that I’ve ever had or could ever want,” he said.
“He is my spiritual brother and he is an amazing, Godly man,” said Serafini, a longtime friend of Newcomer’s and a state delegate who represents Washington County in Maryland’s General Assembly.
“He cares tremendously about everybody,” Serafini said. “He is one of the most giving people. For a man that’s accomplished a lot and held in high esteem, he’s one of the most humble people you’ll ever meet.”
Serafini said Newcomer is quick to challenge those around him to do something for the greater good, which he said was one of the main reasons why he chose to serve county citizens at the state level in Annapolis.
“He is a confidant to me,” Serafini said. “He is a person that I go to. Next to prayer and my wife, he’s the next guy in line. He’s amazing.
“I would love to tell you bad things about him, but unfortunately I can’t think of any,” he joked.
A man of strong faith, Newcomer has been a member at Tri-State Fellowship for about five years.
Randy Buchman, lead pastor at the church on Cearfoss Pike west of Hagerstown, described Newcomer as a kind, gracious and considerate person, who looks for ways to improve the lives or situations of others.
“I believe Tom is a person who certainly sees himself as having been very blessed,” Buchman said. “I think much of that comes and accrues to him certainly in hard work and a good business sense, but yet I think Tom ... realizes that he has been the beneficiary of God’s grace and much kindness of people extended to him.
“And he wants to be a steward of that kind of kindness and faith and extend it to other people as well.”
Newcomer said his faith and sense of community — instilled at a very young age by his grandparents and parents, Charles Newcomer and Mary Hedges — remain constants in the lives of him and his wife, Esther.
“Just looking back and seeing that modeling, it felt like that, in my upbringing, was very Christian as far as giving back to the community, and faith is extremely important,” he said.
A man of family
Esther Newcomer remembers the day well.
Working as an assistant manager at a jewelry store in Tyson’s Corner, Va., she interviewed her future husband, who at the time was a young aspiring salesman in search of a job.
The initial interview didn’t go very well.
“I felt during the interview that he was probably more of a businessperson ... than he was a salesperson,” she said. “I was looking for somebody who was really very comfortable with people, knowledgeable in sales, and I just wasn’t quite getting that feel from him.”
After getting a second opinion from her boss, Esther offered Tom the job. She had found her new employee.
Not long after Tom was hired, Esther said a pair of tickets to the play “Death of a Salesman” fell into their laps, and at the suggestion of another co-worker, he asked her out on their first date.
“One thing led to another, and my wife and I really fell in love,” Tom recalled.
“And the rest is history,” Esther said.
The Newcomers, who were living in Virginia at the time, married in 1984 when Tom was 24 years old and working his way up the management ranks at IBM.
Newcomer, who held an economics degree from what is now McDaniel College in Westminster, Md., earned a gemology degree at the advice of his father, who owned the family jewelry store and began dropping hints that retirement was on the horizon.
After moving back to Hagerstown in the early 1990s, the couple welcomed their daughter, Ashley, even as the long hours and daily commute for Newcomer’s job with IBM became too much.
Newcomer bought R. Bruce Carson Jewelers from his father in 1993 and has owned the company since.
In addition to their now 21-year-old daughter, Tom helped raise Esther’s son, Jason, who is now in his 30s and has two children of his own.
“He was a really great dad,” Esther Newcomer said. “He was a wonderful father figure and an excellent example.”
A favorite getaway for the family has been their cabin in an unpopulated area near Berkeley Springs, W.Va., where over the years they’ve stored up countless memories, riding four-wheelers, boating down the Potomac and Cacapon rivers or just enjoying nature.
Nature sometimes finds its way to the cabin.
“You never know what God will send down the pathway up there,” Esther said.
Porcupines, deer, bobcats and other animals are common sights out there, said Esther, who recalled a not-so-common early-morning surprise.
Tom opened the front door to let their little Yorkie, Katie, outside, when she started barking at a bear standing just feet away. Katie took off after the bear, which retreated into the woods.
Bears “startle a lot more than people think,” she said. “Tom said at the time that he was so worried about Katie because she was this little 10-pound dog chasing this 400-pound bear. There’s all kinds of stories. It’s just a place of refuge. It’s a beautiful way to realize that you can enjoy nature and ... gain a better perspective about things sometimes.”
Tom credits much of his success to the love and support he’s received from his wife over their nearly 30 years together, but as the woman beside the Person of the Year, Esther said she feels “very privileged” as well.
“They say behind every good man, there’s a good woman,” she said, “but I think he can stand alone.”
‘Pay it forward’
When Newcomer was serving on the Museum of Fine Arts board of trustees, the prospect of raising the money for the museum’s atrium was “pretty scary” considering the unstable economy, he said.
“But what I saw — not only in the staff, but all the agencies, the volunteers and the people giving in this community — is this sense of ... you’ve got to pay it forward,” Newcomer said. “You’ve got to give, because it’s so important.”
His generosity has included the museum, Massie Lane said.
Among other things, Newcomer has offered to give some Tiffany glass objects to the museum from his personal collection, she said.
“This person is who he is,” Massie Lane said. “He’s the same person he was yesterday and he’s the same person he will be tomorrow.”
Newcomer, a big supporter of education in the community, will mark his 20th year at the helm of R. Bruce Carson Jewelers next year.
He said business has been good at the store’s new location in the Stone House Square shopping center north of Hagerstown. The business moved its main retail location out of the downtown in 2011, but retains an office on Public Square with hopes of possibly reopening a second retail outlet in the future, Newcomer said.
Newcomer said he’s been blessed with great employees who help make his other contributions to the community possible. The great friendships and positive working relationships he’s had over the years have been a plus.
“I’ve met so many wonderful people,” he said. “It’s a wonderful thing to work together, to build a common cause and to see a group of people join around a consensus and build that going forward.”
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