Earlier this week I learned of the passing of C. T. “Tommy” Sublett, aka “Sub.” Sub taught US history at Laurens District 55 High School, in a career that spanned 42 years. Not only was I a student, but he taught several of my siblings and my nephew. He died the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, just shy of his 76th birthday.
Sub’s teaching style was different from any I had ever encountered. It was more akin to a college lecture style, where he would put massive amounts of notes on the board, then expound upon those notes for the class period. Each grading period you entered into a “contract” for the grade you wanted. If you contracted for a B, you would be given easier tests and assignments, but would never receive a grade higher than a B, though you could receive a lower grade if you didn’t do the work. If you contracted for an A the work was more difficult. I don’t think he let anyone contract for a C. I always went for the A.
Sub had a quiet, gentle nature, with a quick wit and appreciation for oddball humor. He lived alone in his small house in Laurens, and was something of an oddity himself. In a locale that barely knew where Kentucky was on a map, he was an avid Kentucky Wildcats Basketball fan. He always sported a full beard and a rather absurd comb-over, though none would ever fault him for that. He always had the bearing of a wise, old spirit, although he was only in his mid-thirties when I had him as a teacher.
Sub was one of those teachers whose influence goes far beyond the classroom. When I took his class I was an awkward teenager who had grown up in a VERY restrictive household. Sub introduced me to many pop culture touchstones. He would invite us over to his house to watch TV and listen to music, and would even loan us LP albums from his massive collection. Through him I was introduced to the Alan Parsons Project, Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, the larger body of work for Led Zepplin, and was given a thorough founding in the music of Jethro Tull. It was at Sub’s house that I saw Monty Python and the Holy Grail for the first time.
After I graduated from college I started my own teaching career in Laurens District 55. Sub became a trusted colleague, even though we never taught at the same school. When I left Laurens I lost touch with him. Even so, he will be remembered as one of those teachers who cared about students and touched lives in profound ways. RIP, Sub. The world is a better place because you were in it.
My thanks to Jackie Holmes Burns for posting these photos of Sub on Facebook. I shamelessly “borrowed” them. I’m sure I have yearbooks full of similar photos.