Tom Hebert (Nigeria 1962-64)
Rest in Peace, Tom
Born in Wenatchee, Washington on August 9, 1938 with his early childhood spent on his parents’ cattle ranch in the Okanogan, he grew up on Vashon Island near Seattle where his parent founded a nursing home, the caring spirit of which is still going strong at Vashon Community Care. In 1960, he graduated from Linfield College as a theatre major and his graduate work was at the Dallas Theater Center and Baylor University, Waco, Texas.
Preferring projects that empower local communities or challenge the status quo, Tom Hebert was a writer and public policy consultant and Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (Nigeria, 1962-1964). After his Peace Corps service, he integrated the faculty of a black Southern University and later served 18 months establishing USO Clubs on U.S. Marine Corps combat bases in South Vietnam. His last assignment was as director, USO Saigon.
As his assignment in Chu Lai ended in August 1967 and on his way to direct USO Saigon, Hebert received a 411-word letter of commendation from the Assistant Commanding General of the First Marine Division. “I want to thank you for the outstanding service you have given the Marines of the 1st Marine Division…. The USO Chu Lai was truly a part of the Division. The service rendered has been invaluable; marked with distinction.” Tailoring each Club to the location’s needs and hiring mostly local townspeople even five ugly Quonset huts became, as a Seattle Times reporter described USO Chu Lai, as a “Carnival of Action.”
Working again with RPCVs in 1967 he was a UNICEF refugee relief officer during the Biafra war on the Portuguese island of Såo Tomé where he challenged the racism of the church-led effort. After being declared “a mass murder of children,” he was deported under armed guard on a night arms flight to Lisbon.
Later, after working on Long Island, New York as assistant to the president of a state university in 1970, he lived in Washington, DC for several years as a management consultant and writer. And with another Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, he co-authored three well-received guidebooks about alternatives to traditional higher education.
Working for the U.S. State Department in 1977-1979 he helped develop a technical training program for young Nigerians. He eventually managed the embassy end in Lagos.
In 1986 Hebert retired from the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) after developing the Energy Conservation/Solar Institute on Martin Luther King Boulevard in Chattanooga. The Institute doubled as TVA’s center for innovation. And so, for the very first time in TVA’s history, Hebert took TVA into an inner-city neighborhood. Active in civic affairs he was co-founder of Chattanooga Venture, a public-private partnership organization created to prod, plan, and affect a turnaround of Chattanooga. Hebert also laid the foundation for Bessie Smith Hall, named in honor of the legendary “Empress of the Blues.” His last assignment was as the leader of a corporate team to “counter the arguments of our distractors, provided ammunition for our supporters, and rekindle the enthusiasm of our employees.” The product was TVA’s new strategic plan.
For twenty-two years (1998-2020 ) Hebert lived on the Umatilla Indian Reservation where he was also a columnist for The Confederated Umatilla Journal, drafted the Tribe’s original alcohol and drug policy, co-founded the Tribal cattle company, and developed the plan for a Tribal youth horse program. A long-time columnist for The East Oregonian and civic gadfly he called himself “the Quixote of Tutuilla Flats.”
Hebert said that he maintained his sanity through his ability to laugh at himself.