A Shared Vision: Tommy Northrup

Tommy Northrop had a vision, and he worked hard to make it happen. As CEO with a controlling interest in Barrow Fine Furniture, Tommy built a business that became the largest independently owned furniture store in Alabama.

But Tommy had something else that he considered much more important – a relationship with the Lord.

That relationship guided Tommy’s business practices, including the decision to close his stores on Sundays so employees and customers could attend worship services.

It was the foundation of his heart for mentoring young people; his role as an encourager of pastors at First Baptist Church of Opp, AL; and the wise counsel he provided as a trustee of the University of Mobile.

His wife, Pat, said Tommy never acted as if Barrow Fine Furniture was “our business.”

“He always, always looked at everything we had as belonging to the Lord,” she said. When Tommy died in 2003 of cancer at the young age of 59, Pat became president of Barrow Fine Furniture. Today, the business her husband and a partner purchased in 1979 is thriving in five locations, as the leading furniture store in the Mobile, Dothan and Pensacola areas with more stores in Andalusia and Flomaton, AL.

“Sometimes I drive into the parking lot and I say, ‘This is Yours, Lord.’ It takes a lot of pressure off of me, knowing that,” Pat said.

The UMobile Connection

Now senior pastor of First Baptist Hendersonville, TN, Bruce Chesser ’78 was still in the early years of his ministry when he answered the call to serve as pastor of First Baptist Opp, where the Northrops were members.

Bruce found in Tommy a “kind, very generous, very godly man. Tommy had incredible wisdom. Anything I ran into as a young pastor and didn’t know what to do or how to handle, Tommy was my go-to person,” Bruce said. “Tommy was a wonderful, wonderful man. He and Pat became good friends and confidants.”

Tommy loved people, he had a passion for business and community involvement, and he invested his life in things that mattered. He served on the Board of Directors of SouthTrust Bank, chairman of the board of the Scott Dawson Evangelistic Association, and in a variety of capacities at First Baptist Opp, including chairman of the deacons, youth director, and Sunday School teacher for young married, college and career classes.

Pat said Tommy “was always a friend of pastors, all of his life. He was an encourager.”

She said the couple quickly grew to consider the Chessers as part of their own family. That personal connection eventually expanded to include the University of Mobile.

“Knowing Bruce and his integrity, his character, has been a blessing to us. I know the fact that he had graduated from Mobile College opened the door for us to think about the school,” Pat said.

For his part, Bruce knew that whatever Tommy said he would do, he did – and did well. As a member of the university’s Board of Regents, an advisory group of Baptist pastors, Bruce recommended Tommy as a trustee.

“When you faced something that was hard to deal with, Tommy would go to war with you,” Bruce said. “When the bullets started flying, he would be there. He wouldn’t turn and run. To have someone involved like that in your alma mater…is very encouraging.”

A Passionate Supporter

The school’s mission matched that of the Northrops.

“Tommy has always had a heart for young people, for encouraging them,” Pat said. “He was director of our youth department for many yeas. He would help them out, write resumes, help them get jobs.”

Tommy joined the Mobile College Board of Trustees in 1987, serving through the school’s name change in 1993 and the hiring of Dr. Mark Foley as the university’s third president in 1998. As chairman of the Board’s Development Committee, he was a passionate advocate for the school – a role he continued to play after his board service ended in 1999.

“He loved this university,” said Bill Hart ’79, senior development officer for the University of Mobile. “He wanted to serve on the trustee committee that worked to financially support the school, and he was always looking for opportunities for the university. He fully understood and embraced the duties of caring for and governing the school.”

Serving with trustees such as Massey Bedsole, Yetta Samford, and others who held the university in a special place in their hearts “was for me, and for Tommy, a very humbling experience,” Pat said.

The Right Thing to Do

When Tommy was diagnosed with prostate cancer, among the many things the couple wanted to do was make a lasting investment in the lives of others. It was how they had lived their lives together, and a legacy they wanted to leave.

“All the years that he was alive and we were presented with an opportunity to give, whether it was the church or whatever, we would pray about it and we would always be on the same page,” Pat said.

They knew that Bruce had attended Mobile College with the help of an endowed scholarship.

“I went to school on one of those endowed scholarships. I was the recipient of the generosity of someone, and when I went to Opp, I discovered I was the pastor of the man who had provided that,” Bruce said.

From Bruce’s experience, the Northrops knew first-hand how an endowed scholarship blessed not only the students who received it, but also the people those students would one day impact through their careers and lives.

“When I think of Bruce, I think of the joy of the Lord,” Pat said.

The couple established The John and Patricia Northrop Endowed Scholarship. They directed proceeds earned from the invested funds be given to full-time students studying for a career in Christian ministries or business and who express through their lives a commitment to Christian values and morals. Priority is given to students from the Northrops’ hometown area of Covington County, AL.

“Once Tommy was diagnosed with prostate cancer, sometimes it takes something like that to realize that life is short, and you have a short time to invest in other people’s lives. We felt like it was the right thing to do,” Pat said.

A Lasting Influence

Today, Pat continues to add to the couple’s endowed scholarship fund. As it grows, so do the opportunities to provide scholarships.

“We shared some of the same feelings about the University of Mobile. I just loved him so much, I just knew it was what he would want me to do. It was a shared vision for us,” Pat said.

Carrying on that shared vision gives her a special feeling.

“It’s a satisfaction knowing that it’s something that will help someone else – helping someone who might not otherwise have an opportunity to go – knowing without a doubt that their lives are going to be influenced by going to the University of Mobile,” she said.

She has seen the kind of influence the college has had in the lives of many – from former pastor Bruce Chesser who received an endowed scholarship from a donor in their community, to students from her community who have received a Northrop scholarship.

“Many of them were strong Christians before they went to college, and they chose this school to help their lives make a difference,” she said.

Bruce said the couple has made a difference in many lives, including his own.

“If you could have a church filled with Tommy and Pat Northrops, you could impact a city, a state and a nation in short order,” Bruce said. “They are the cream of the crop.”

For information on how to start or add to an existing endowed scholarship, call the Development Office at 251.442.2223 or email bhart@umobile.edu.
About the Author

Kathy Dean

Kathy Dean uses her passion for storytelling and "playing with words" to share the stories of people, place and purpose that make the University of Mobile unique. As associate vice president for university communications, she manages media relations, edits the TorchLight alumni magazine, and oversees university communications. A former award-winning journalist, she is a two-time recipient of the Baptist Communicators Association grand prize for feature writing. Kathy and her husband, Chuck, live with three extremely loud miniature schnauzers.