Both are artists, Joe is also an architect, and both remember Chase City and what things were like during the Jim Crow era.  They both also share the gift of optimism.  When they recall the segregation of their youth, and the poverty most Southside Virginians endured in that period of time, they relate pleasant memories.  
 When an Native American exhibit opened at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, Tom, Joe and I met to view the films, see the artifacts, and in Joe and Tom’s case, learn a ceremonial rain dance.  By the way, it worked.  It rained almost for a solid month after that.  Joe Epps embraces his mixed ethnicity that includes, among others, Native American ancestry.  In the museum gift shop, Tom picked up a book on Virginia Indians titled, We’re Still Here: Contemporary Virginia Indians Tell Their Stories.  One of the coauthors of that text was a writer named Sandra Waugaman.  For months after that exhibit, Tom talked about that book; it really inspired him.  As it turned out, Sandra Waugaman ended up writing the book about Tom’s life that is now in hardback and available at most major book stores and on Amazon.com.  And we are glad she did.
 This is a little book by a small press that is a typical “as told to” story.  However, there is nothing typical about the man the book is about.
 Recently, a book signing was held at the Valentine Richmond History Center, the place we have been hanging our volunteer hat since 1985.  We introduced Tom to the museum, and he generously donated some of his papers to the collections.  He later generously agreed to hold the first of three book signings for his biography at the Center.
 It was remarkable how many people came out on a weekend afternoon to see and hear Tom Cannon.  The
books sold at a good clip.  Some who were there received the gift of one of his $1,000 checks in the past.  Others brought their families so their children could see, first hand, a true hero.  Members of his family and extended community came to visit, as well as his good friends.  There were more than a few heroes in their own right who came and went during the event, as if to salute one of their own. The auditorium was filled to standing room only for what turned out to be an inspirational and uplifting experience.
After the event, when we had time to process the good fortune to have been in that audience, and to actually know Tom Cannon, we were glad that he is getting some good feedback and attention.  Many of his character and stature are not properly saluted until they are dead and gone.  His lessons about personal humility and generosity under adverse conditions makes us all want to be better human beings.  We can only hope for your sake that you have a Thomas Cannon in your community.  If not, perhaps you can purchase this book, and see if it will inspire you to help your neighbors and friends as he has done for so many decades.  According to the closing lines of Poor Man’s Philanthropist, “[Tom Cannon] says that his spiritual memorial has always been indelibly inscribed on the hearts of those he’s touched.  His funeral speech ends with this statement for anyone wishing to remember him asking that they say this of him: ‘Having been born and reared under less than the most favorable of circumstances, Thomas Cannon tried as best he could, as often as he could, to do as much as he could, for as many as he could, for as long as he could, with the little that he had.’” VR
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