Remembering Tom Charleton (1936-2019)

Tom Charlton, father, grandfather, husband, teacher, historian, died January 25, 2019, in Fort Worth, Texas. A memorial service will be held at Lake Shore Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, in the near future.

Thomas Lee Charlton was born December 18, 1936, in Helena, Arkansas, to Marie Zola Broussard and Thomas Ogden Charlton, and he was equally proud of his Cajun and early Texas roots. He attended all twelve grades in Beaumont, Texas, public schools, graduating from Beaumont High School as a member of the “ever loyal” class of 1955. Tom started Baylor University as a chemistry major, projected to be the next physician in the family, but got sidetracked by superb history professors and graduated in 1959 with majors in history and sociology. He married Betty Lou Jaynes in August 1959 and immediately began graduate work in history at the University of Texas in Austin. Tom completed his master’s degree in 1962, and he and Betty headed to San Antonio, where he taught for eight years at San Antonio College while completing his PhD at Texas. Their sons, John and Richard, were born in 1965 and 1967.

In 1970, Tom joined the Baylor faculty as a member of the history department and director of the Texas Collection library. He soon became the founding director of the Program for Oral History, finding his lifelong vocation of listening to and recording the stories of Texans from all walks of life. Tom conducted hundreds of interviews himself and taught thousands of Baylor students and community historians the art of listening to voices from the past. He was president of the Oral History Association and founding president of the Texas Oral History Association, which later named its lifetime achievement award for him. In 1993, he joined the Baylor academic administration, serving ten years in the office of the provost with five different titles. From 2003 until his retirement in 2010, he returned full circle, again directing the Texas Collection. He also taught the history of the US, Texas, and the American West, and directed dozens of master’s students in their thesis projects.

Following his and Betty’s divorce in 1983, Tom married Rebecca Sharpless in 1988. He was a superb tennis player and photographer and was never happier than when he was watching his beloved Bears in any sport. He loved to travel and saw three continents and forty-nine states, skipping Hawaii because it was too hot. For twenty-two years he and Becca fussed over their 1905 Craftsman-style home in Waco and took in homeless dogs, a practice they continued after moving to Fort Worth in 2010. Tom was a liberal Democrat and lifelong Baptist. At Trinity Baptist in San Antonio and Lake Shore in Waco, he served in ways ranging from deacon to teacher of toddlers’ Sunday school. Unfailingly kind, generous, and enthusiastic, Tom encouraged everyone he came in contact with. Although Parkinson’s Disease made his last years difficult, he long retained his irrepressible joie de vivre, cornball sense of humor, and love of good food. He is survived by his wife, Rebecca Sharpless; his sons and their wives, John and Deb Fukumoto Charlton and Richard and Jan Yu Charlton; granddaughters, Nicole, Elizabeth, Brooke, Sarah, and Hannah Charlton; brother-in-law, Lester Sharpless; and nieces and nephews, Joshua Ables and his wife, Jennifer Ables, Nathan Sharpless, Amanda Sharpless, and Kayley, Trey, Alex, and Amaya Ables.

Thank you to the array of medical personnel, physical therapists Tandra Langford and Sharon Jackson, caregiver par excellence Wanda Vaughn, and all of the truly incredible people at Silverado Memory Care who treated Tom with grace, love, and respect in the last years.

The memorial service will be Sunday, February 17, at 4 pm, at Lake Shore Baptist Church, 5801 Bishop Dr., Waco, 76710, followed by Tex-Mex for all (para todos, he would say!).​
If you wish to make a memorial gift, please consider any organization that works for social justice.

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