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Tom Hambright in 1987, just two years after beginning a decades-long career as Monroe County historian. RICHARD WATHERWAX/Contribution

He seemed to know just about everything about the history of the Florida Keys: military, politics, influences, events, economics, and scandals. And even if historian Tom Hambright didn’t know the answer, he knew where it was. It’s usually somewhere in a newspaper archive filing cabinet on microfilm or in a temperature-controlled safe at the Key West Library, where countless cartons of Keys history are kept.

Mr. Hambright died on Oct. 14 at the age of 85, less than two years after retiring from a 36-year career as Monroe County’s chief historian.

“Tom will be greatly missed and his death will leave a huge hole, but he left us with much to be grateful for, learn from and build upon,” Hambright’s successor said. said Corey Malcolm, chief historian at the Florida History Center at the Monroe County Library. . “We know about the Florida Keys and how our island communities are better because of him. Tom may be gone, but he will never be forgotten.” yeah.”

The Monroe County Library has published a comprehensive obituary at keyslibraries.org. Here are some of them, along with additional comments compiled by Keys Weekly.

Thomas LeRoy Hambright was born on February 23, 1938 in Mooresville, North Carolina, and graduated from Appalachian State Teachers College in Boone, North Carolina in 1960. He planned to become a history teacher, but instead served in the U.S. Navy for 21 years, including multiple tours in Key West.

He retired from the military in 1981, returned to Key West, took computer classes at Florida Keys Community College (now University of the Florida Keys), and worked for three years as a curator at the Key West Art and Historical Society. .

Library Heritage and Global Reach

In 1985, Hambright joined the Florida History Department at the Monroe County Public Library, where he continued and expanded the work of Betty Bruce, researched Conch genealogy, and contributed to the library’s collection of historical documents, newspapers, photographs, books, diaries, and more. We have expanded our collection significantly. He fielded a steady stream of questions from journalists, homeowners, artists, researchers, historians, authors, real estate agents, and more.

Although Mr. Hambright was a popular speaker, his widest reach was online, where the Florida Keys History Center’s image archive on Flickr has been viewed more than 43 million times.

Hambright led a team of volunteers who scanned, identified, dated, and uploaded more than 23,000 high-resolution images. They are now available to view and download for free, and the digital collection continues to grow every day.

“…When I began my career in maritime and local history, no call went unheeded. Even if it meant spending hours scouring microfilm and primary sources in the vaults of Florida History. There wasn’t a single question that went unanswered, no matter how much we had to dig into it. Tom’s respect and passion for local and maritime history was like part of his genetic code. His eagerness to imprint it into an eidetic memory and share it in a coherent and absorbing way sets him apart from everyone else. I said, “Tom is irreplaceable. What will we do if Tom is gone?” We carry on his good work, but it’s hard to imagine him not being on the other end of the phone to assist. ” — Cori Convertito, Key West Art and Historical Society curator and historian.

“Tom and I served in Vietnam at the same time in 1965 and 1966. He was the only American to serve on a Vietnamese river junk, and as the only naval officer in an extremely dangerous region he had a demanding mission. He received the Bronze Star for Combat V.” (According to the Navy, Combat V honors those who “exposed themselves to personal risk while directly participating in combat operations.”) )

“He was a gentle, quiet man with a big heart who had an extraordinary knowledge of Key West and will be greatly missed.” — Bill Burge, former Key West City Commissioner , currently director of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Mohawk Floating Museum.

“One of my great joys over the 23 years I worked with Tom was that he would often peek in my office door and announce, “There’s a treasure here.” I went directly to the history room. , where Tom was happy to explain his new donation. He not only loved history, he loved sharing history.” — Anne Layton Rice, Library Assistant Director of Support Services

“Endlessly fascinated by the history of Key West and the Florida Keys, Tom was inspired by Paul Harvey’s phrase ‘the rest of the story.’ He loved uncovering deeper backstories that are less known. His Florida Keys History Center itself is Tom’s greatest legacy. Over his 35 years, he has worked to build Monroe County’s important archives, which currently house historical documents, photos, and public records. ” — Corey Malcolm, Chief Historian, Library Florida History Center.

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