Tom Stop sat at his desk in his office in Longview, Texas, reflecting on a lifetime spent in business and accounting. It's a brief conversation. The majority of his reflections focused on his real passion: A life spent in service to God and caring for others.
Tom Stone has lived a life of generosity.
The ornate desk speaks of a life devoted to business, and the accounting calculator is an old-school reminder of the expertise that brought him success. Other items speak about the joys of his life: Photos of his late wife, Margaret Ann, their children, Karoletha and Tom, and smiling grandchildren. Baylor University paraphernalia is everywhere.
But given his beginnings, Tom Stone’s life ledger was a hard-won journey, and one that places God solely in the credits column.
“My family was poor,” he recalled. “My father sharecropped. And then to get out of sharecropping, he became the principal and teacher of the fourth, fifth and sixth grade in a rural school.
“It was a humble life,” he added. “We had nothing. I never went hungry, and I never went without clean clothes, but we didn’t have much. And then I started school early when my dad was a teacher in Groveton, and they let me start when I was 5. And later, I moved from a school that was 11 grades to one that was 12 grades, and they tested me and moved me up, and so I went into the sixth grade when I was 9 years old.”
And with a grin, he added, “That may have sounded like a great thing then, but when you get to be in high school and you’re a sophomore when you’re 13 years old with kids that are two and three years older than you are, you don’t develop a very good sense of self-worth.”
Despite the awkward reality he experienced of being younger and smaller than his classmates, Stone found comfort and a sense of individuality through his faith.
“God has found several ways to tell me, ‘Tom, I created a unique Tom Stone for him to be Tom Stone, not for him to be six-foot-four and an All-American basketball player.’ I [later] found worth for myself as I tried to minister to others through Buckner, and Buckner helped me to feel that worth and to feel that joy of serving.”
Stone’s mention of Buckner reminded him of his first encounter with the ministry of Buckner at First Baptist Church of Corsicana on his seventh or eighth birthday. He explained how on their birthdays, children would count out and donate change to help the children served at the Buckner Orphans Home in Dallas.
“On your birthday, when you went to Sunday school there, you counted out – if you were 7 years old, you counted out seven nickels or seven pennies. I can assure you, with the wealth of my family, it was pennies.
It’s fitting that Tom Stone’s initiation to the ministry of Buckner was through his giving. He’s spent nine decades finding ways to support others through his church and Buckner.
But his support came into sharper focus through a relationship with a friend he calls “a brother.”
While Stone is an only child, he said he’s had “four brothers” in his lifetime. One of those brothers was Charles "Chuck" Bruce Stevenson. They met at Baylor. Stone was only 19 years old when he graduated from Baylor.
“I found out you couldn’t get a real decent job when you’re 19, even if you’re a college graduate," Stone said. "So I stayed in Waco working for some people until I was approaching my 21st birthday. I started looking for real jobs and came to Longview and found out Chuck and his wife were already here. He was a schoolteacher.”
The meeting of old friends seemed to be more than chance.
“I had a real experience with the Lord,” Stone shared. “I accepted Christ as my Savior when I was 8 years old, but in a revival here with Howard Butt, I decided it was time for me to stop playing church, and start being [the] church. Chuck was already being [the] church. He and his wife and my wife and I became great friends.”
‘Kicking and screaming’
During that time, Stevenson felt God’s call to vocational ministry and became minister of education at First Baptist Church of Grand Prairie. While serving there, Stone said Stevenson “called me and said, ‘I’ve been put on a committee of the BGCT (Baptist General Convention of Texas), to nominate trustees for certain things, and one of them is Buckner.’”
Stone continued his memory of the conversation, saying Stevenson told him he had talked to the Dr. R.C. Campbell, the presiden of Buckner at the time, and they wanted somebody with a financial background. Stevenson nominated Stone as a trustee.
Stone’s mental response was instant.
“I didn’t want to do it,” he said. “I didn’t know that much about Buckner. I thought I was busy. I was two years away from leaving my partnership and going out on my own, and I just didn’t want to do it. But it’s hard to tell your brother no, so I just kept putting off telling him no until it was too late to tell him no. And so, I went kicking and screaming onto the board of Bucker.”
He attended his first meeting as a trustee in 1979, the year Buckner celebrated its 100th anniversary. At the close of the meeting, he was asked to pray.
“In my prayer, I said, ‘God, one more time, you bless me in spite of myself, not because of myself because already I can feel this is exactly where you wanted me to be.’ And Buckner became one of the more vital parts of my life.”
When he began his board service in his late 40s, he said he was still “the baby of the board,” but the baby had found family.
“I had the joy of meeting some of the people that were just super, super, super. Dr. Pickett was the president when I went on the board, and Jim Thurman and his wife welcomed me and my wife like we were long lost kids of theirs or something. That was just such a fantastic experience for me.”
Eventually, as his experience and love for the ministry grew, he became the board chairman. He recalled every board meeting was like a revival.
“I started off every board meeting with somebody giving a testimony.”
There were also monumental business decisions during his time of service: The decision whether to keep domestic adoption programs active and the growth of Buckner Retirement Services are two he remembers as “classic memories.”
His wife, Mac, also became invested in the Buckner ministry. Once when the couple were touring a Buckner ministry in San Antonio, Mac told him, “Will we ever meet anybody from Buckner that’s just not special?”
“And I said, ‘I hope not.’ And we didn’t.”
There were other memories made. His favorite, he said, was a 1997 trip to Russia, a time he remembers as “one of the great moments in my life with Buckner.”
During the trip, volunteers brought new shoes and coats to children living in orphanages in the St. Petersburg area.
“It was tough,” he said. “Those people up there didn’t have anything. And snow was on the ground. I remember I put a jacket on a kid, and it was three times too big.”
Stone said changing the lives of children was among his chief motivators as a Buckner leader.
“I would meet children, and sometimes they would come and speak to us at the board meetings,” he shared. “They shared some terrible stories with us. They didn’t have a chance. They were nothing. The world had discarded them, and somehow, somebody at Buckner got hold of them and they became happy, useful, joyful Christian people that went out to serve others too.”
“There’s nothing in the world that thrills me more than to see a young life changed,” he said. “And what they’re going to do not just for that life, what they’re going to do for all the lives they come in contact with.”
‘Feed my sheep’
That moment also summed up his personal philosophy of caring for others.
“I usually come back to the story of when Jesus appeared to Peter after his resurrection, and he asked him, ‘Do you love me?’ Three times Peter responded each time that he loved him, and each time Jesus said, ‘Feed my sheep.’”
“If you love Jesus, you feed his sheep,” Stone shared. “Buckner loves Jesus, and Buckner feeds his sheep. And that’s what I’ve told to many, many people, because that is, to me, the whole thing about Buckner; if you love, you serve those that cannot in many instances serve themselves. And that’s what Buckner does. And everything that they do, whether it’s with children, or families or older people, or what, you’re showing them the love of Jesus by helping them do what they can’t do by themselves.”
Buckner records show Mac and Tom Stone have generously given more than $1.3 million to Buckner ministries, caring for the most vulnerable, for more than 42 years.
Arnie Adkison, Buckner senior vice president and chief development officer, said the breadth and impact of the Stones’ generosity has changed the course of “thousands of lives.”
“Mac and Tom’s giving doesn’t just reflect a heart for a specific cause or group served by Buckner; it reflects almost all of our ministries,” Adkison said “The Stones have given to our work in five countries, volunteered for and given to mission trips, funded endowments, given to Buckner Shoes for Orphan Souls®, provided hope through Senior Care and Assistance, supported our humanitarian aid efforts. They’ve impacted just about every ministry we’ve been involved in.”
Stone has always maintained a faith-based concept of giving to help others.
“Back at a time in my life, God gave me money. I’ve always been a tither and a giver, but God gave me money I didn’t really need. I’ll never forget I was on a Buckner trip in Peru, and our days were so busy we didn’t have time to have a devotional, so we did it on the bus. The first morning, Ken Hall is standing in the middle of the bus giving a devotional. I heard the first few words, but something he said triggered me.
"And I said, ‘God, what am I supposed to do with this money?' And just as audibly as God ever said in my life, he said, ‘Give it away. I gave it to you.’ I found out I’m supposed to be a conduit. Just a guy that lived and worked in a little old small town, but the joy is being a conduit. I’m influencing lives that I can’t touch.”
While the Stones’ touch has reached across the globe and throughout Texas, they also gave to the community they called home: Longview.
Locally, Mac and Tom have protected children through Buckner Foster Care and Adoption, provided help to single parents through Buckner Family Pathways™, given to client assistance events and counseling.
The Buckner Family Pathways campus in Longview bears their name. It’s a ministry that Mac and Tom both felt fiercely about.
“I remember going to the one in Lufkin, and I came away from there and I said, ‘We don’t do anything any better than this,’” he said. “You’re breaking that cycle of families that have been down. I mean, it’s just amazing that they’ve gone from being on relief to being not only self- sufficient, but their families become self-sufficient. Oh, it’s wonderful.”
The Stone legacy
Stone’s influence has extended past his family’s giving. He was on the Buckner board of trustees when the board and Buckner Retirement Services made the decision to build Buckner Westminster Place in Longview, one of six Buckner senior living communities.
He also introduced Buckner to Kenneth Hall, fifth president and CEO of Buckner International. Hall had been Stone’s pastor at First Baptist Church of Longview.
“I praise the Lord that he let me introduce Buckner and Ken together,” he said. “My first year I was chairman of the board, I asked Ken to speak at Founder’s Day. And Dr. Campbell fell in love with him.”
Hall became president and CEO of Buckner in 1994, serving as president for 16 years and as CEO for an additional two years.
Stone’s legacy continues, and he credits Buckner with keeping his interest in the world high.
“Buckner helps me feel like I’m a part of what’s going on,” he shared. “It just invigorates me to see everything that Buckner’s still doing. It invigorates me to see everything Buckner is doing in Northeast Texas.”
Still sitting at his desk, Stone delivered a final thought on his life of generosity with a piercing gaze: “When you get to be as old as I am, you wish you’d done more of that. My interest now is not giving less. My interest now is wishing I had given more.
“I need to be able to give to a place like Buckner that takes my money, and God blesses it and I reach people,” he finished. “That’s a real joy. Because individually we can’t do things. Collectively, with the leadership of the Holy Spirit, with organizations like Buckner, we can comfort, bring joy and give grace to people everywhere.”