Thomas Oliver Duff, Jr. ’35, the courtly and gracious business leader and civic giant, died Monday, Oct. 14, 2013, at his home on Lookout Mountain. He was 100. His family’s connection with the wholesale pharmaceutical industry spanned more than a century, beginning in the early 20th century with his father’s regional company and ending in the early 21st century as a part of the largest pharmaceutical wholesaler in the world.
At 22, Mr. Duff went to work for McKesson Drug Co. in Huntington, W.Va. World War II interrupted his career, but he returned to Chattanooga to form Duff Brothers Inc. with his brother, the late Frank F. Duff in 1947. With his father in an advisory role, Duff Brothers quickly became the dominant wholesaler in the region and continued that role after its sale in 1978. Among Mr. Duff’s strengths were the abilities to stay close to his customers and to foster a respect among his employees for the central values of Duff Brothers. He was affectionately known at the company as “Mr. Tom.”
In his philanthropic and civic life, Mr. Duff left his mark on myriad organizations, including the Baylor School, the Universities of Tennessee in Knoxville and Chattanooga, the United Way, the Chamber of Commerce, the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, the Rotary Club of Chattanooga, Memorial Hospital, and numerous business-related organizations. He was the president of the Chamber, the Rotary, the United Way, the Red Cross and the Salvation Army fund drives. He was a member of the University of Chattanooga Foundation and the University of Tennessee Development Council. A much cherished honor, the Dorothy Patten “Love of Chattanooga” Award was presented to him in 1991 for his outstanding service to the community. On a national level, he was recognized by the National Wholesale Druggists Association, in its most prestigious award, for his “outstanding sportsmanship in both his business and personal life.” He also was a board member of the NWDA, the International Multiple Sclerosis organization and the Gulf Life Insurance Co. He was president of the Mountain City and Fairyland clubs and was King of the Cotton Ball in 1971.
One of his most satisfying relationships was with the American National Bank and Trust Co. In 1961, he succeeded his father on the board, and remained a member of the SunTrust Bank board until he assumed an advisory role in 1981. No one has ever served longer on that board than Mr. Duff. As the oldest alumnus of Baylor, Mr. Duff was able, with his brother and other family members, to establish in his lifetime the Duff Family Scholarship. It named the first Duff Family Scholar this year. On the occasion of his 100th birthday in August, the Lookout Mountain, Tenn. and the Lookout Mountain, Ga., commissions issued a joint proclamation, praising Mr. Duff for his “posture of service in deference to others.”
Born in the Chattanooga in 1913, he was a graduate of Baylor and Davidson College. He received a commission during World War II in the United States Naval Reserve, serving in New London, Connecticut, and Guam. He was a member of Lookout Mountain Presbyterian Church, where he served as president of the Board of Deacons. In addition to his father and brother, he was preceded in death by his mother, Elizabeth Ferrel Duff; his wife, Jane Kitchen Duff; and his son-in-law, David S. Latimore Jr.He is survived by his son and his wife, Thomas Oliver “Todd” and Martha Duff, Signal Mountain; his daughter, Catherine Duff Latimore, Newnan, Ga.; his grandchildren, Cakki L. and Jim Namorato, Richmond, Va.; Mary Duff L. and Mike Rayneri, Greenville, S.C.; Thomas Oliver “Tommy” and Abby Duff, Signal Mountain; great-grandchildren, David and Thomas Namorato; Emily Jane and Lillian Allen Rayneri, and Alexandra Duff. Also surviving are his brother, William E. Duff, Oakbrook, Ill.; and nephews, Frank F. Duff Jr., Chattanooga; C. Avery Duff, Marina del Ray, Calif.; Mark Duff, Aspen, Colo.; nieces, Elizabeth Duff Woods, Rye, N.Y., and Hillary Duff, Oakbrook, Ill.
The memorial service will be at 1 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 17, at Lookout Mountain Presbyterian Church with the Rev. Joe Novenson officiating. The family will receive friends in the church’s Fellowship Hall from 11:30 a.m. until time of service at 1 p.m. Memorial contributions may be made to Baylor School, Duff Family Scholarship, 171 Baylor School Road, 37402, or the Jane and Thomas Oliver Duff scholarship at the University of Chattanooga,UC Foundation, 615 McCallie Ave., 37403, or the charity of your choice.
Please share your thoughts and memories at www.wannfuneralhome.com.Arrangements are by Wann Funeral Home & Cremation Center, located at the foot of historic Lookout Mountain, St. Elmo. 821-7551.