Sept. 1, 1999
By Phil BatsonOrange & White
CLEMSON, S.C. – When he was six-years-old, Tommy Norris attended his first Clemson football game. In the 1930s Death Valley was then just a futuristic vision. The Tigers played at historic Riggs Field. The head coach was Jess Neely.
“I remember after the game,” Norris recalled, “I met Coach Neely and he rubbed my head and asked me, ‘Are you going to play ball for Clemson, son?’
“I said, ‘yes, sir’. I’m 66-years-old now and I still remember that so clearly.”
Starting as a “bare-footed, mill village boy from Cateechee,” Norris says he has come a long way since those early days. “We have been blessed by the good Lord.” He owns Carpet One Interiors by Tommy on Wade Hampton Blvd., in Greenville.
His love of Clemson and a successful business career has resulted in Norris endowing a position recently at Clemson in honor of Van Hilderbrand, Clemson’s Associate AD/Ticket Manager.
“I don’t know anybody who could do the job he does,” Norris said of Hilderbrand. You never see him upset. I’m sure he hears more complaints than anyone at Clemson. Still, he treats everybody the same and makes everyone feel special.
“It is our honor, privledge and pleasure to make this endowment in Van’s honor.”
Hilderbrand has been Clemson’s ticket manager for 19 years. He graduated from Clover High School in 1970. He was the school’s all-time leading scorer in basketball until 1993, when former Clemson football player Lamont Hall broke his record.
He earned his degree in parks and administration from Clemson in 1974. The 48-year-old is married to the former Diane Harris of Clover and they have two children, Van Jr., a Clemson sophomore, and 14-year-old Lee Elizabeth.
Norris and his wife, Dolores, were recently recognized with a dinner at the IPTAY/Ticket Office complex. IPTAY Executive Director George Bennett, who is recovering from surgery, said Hilderbrand “does a better job than any ticket manager that I’ve ever been involved with in my almost 30-plus years in college athletics.”
Bennett said Hilderbrand displays “a unique ability to deal with people in a caring and compassionate way.”
Norris praised the work of JoVanna King (Clemson’s Director of Gift and Estate Planning) in putting the Endowment together. “To meet JoVanna is just like you’ve known her all your life,” said Norris. “She does a tremendous job for Clemson.”
IPTAY Associate Executive Director Bert Henderson said, “Although the Norrises have been supporting Clemson since 1960, they are stepping up their commitment. They are showing the true Clemson spirit.”
Norris family and friends attended the dinner, including three couples who have attended Clemson football games with the Norrises since the 80s.
“Traveling with those folks to away football games was just the very best of times,” said Norris. Included in that group are Arnold and Gwen Pace, Bill and Marian Barbary and Earl and Carolyn Sammons.
“I can tell you some good stories about our travels, but the best ones are left untold,” said Norris.
After many years in Greenville, the Norrises now reside in the Myrtle Beach area. Norris and fellow Endowment donor Frank Black are golfing buddies. “We get our money’s worth. We play with all the clubs,” Norris said.
Tommy has three sons (Jerome, Russell and Charles) and one daughter (Cindy Clack of Gray Court, SC). The Norrises have 12 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Dolores is employed by a insurance agent. “She’d rather go to work, rather than stay at home and have to put up with me,” he joked.
Norris’s endowment brings IPTAY’s total to 73 with that program. Tiger Pride, Clemson’s five-year, $30 million capital fund-raising campaign, is also currently in full swing.
“We grew up loving Clemson and trying to support it,” said Norris. “The Lord has just blessed us at this time so that we’re able to give.”
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