Obituary: David Tolbert
March 24, 1955 – November 15, 2022
William David Tolbert
aka David, Dad, Billy D, Dave, or Papa Bear
If there’s a heaven, Dad is running right now next to his hero, Steve Prefontaine. After, he’ll get to eat some swiss cake rolls, drink a Coke, and watch Alabama football with Buck, his dad. Maybe he’ll drive around with the top down listening to The Beatles or The Doobie Brothers in a crimson corvette. Maybe he’ll ski the double black diamonds on heaven’s Snowmass. No matter what, he’s having fun and he’s smiling at someone. Or he might be flipping someone off for driving dangerously (he hated that). Either way, a light that bright doesn’t disappear – it just changes forms.
He never met a sport he didn’t like. He was ridiculously competitive and contagiously adventurous. Whatever he experienced, he connected it to a song. And that man loved a cheesy love song. He sang with epic conviction but lord, he could not carry a tune. His favorite political rant was against daylight savings time. He just wanted to live in a world where all throughout the year, the clocks didn’t have to change.
Whether you knew him as a respiratory therapist (he won awards for that) or the guy who ran marathons (27 total with some medals and trophies to prove it) or the bald guy who rode for two hours around town every day on his Elliptigo (unfortunately, no one gets an award for riding an Elliptigo), you knew he was somehow this incredible mix of discipline, intensity, and tenderness. He was an accountant at heart – he loved numbers and he even wrote the mileage he covered on each pair of running shoes. Ever curious, he was the original DIYer. And he was always happy to share any skill he had. If you worked or played with him, you know he never gave up on a project or task until he figured it out. And he may have needed space, but he never gave up on other people and he never gave up on himself. He was a work in progress, always. It’s a rare gift to know a man like that.
A staple of his life was talking with his daughter, Julie Tolbert Nelson, for hours. He wrote poems in his son’s (TC Tolbert’s) birthday cards for over 20 years. The three of them shared an on-going video chat where they could share projects and progress every other day. He adored both of their partners (Bradley Nelson and Rosie Perera) and their pets (Jonesy, Southey, Marie, and Delilah). He may have joked around a lot but he reflected deeply on his relationships and life. He loved us kids and he was intensely proud of us and he learned to tell and show us that in many beautiful ways.
He grew up in Lupton City, TN where his Aunt Leta gave him a pair of shoes after seeing him walk to his first day of school barefoot. He never stopped running after that and throughout K-12, he never missed a day of school. He married Darline Crane at 19 and they had us kids pretty much right away. Let’s just say he went on to have several “relationship status updates” over his lifetime. He got an Associates in Respiratory Therapy at Chattanooga State and that eventually allowed him to live and work and play and save lives in Tennessee, Wyoming, Colorado, and (most recently) Florida. He called his 92 year old Aunt Velma every Sunday. We know he would say he “couldn’t complain” about only having 67 years on the planet because they were 67 years full of adventure, learning, and learning to love. And while we are so incredibly sad, we, too, are trying not to complain.
If you are reading this, you probably have a story to tell about our Papa Bear and we’d love to hear it. Please share it on his Facebook or on the online obituary. If you want to do something in his honor, forgive someone who has been an asshole. If you’ve been an asshole, take responsibility for that so everyone can get on with their day. You can also donate to Shoes That Fit, a nonprofit that provides athletic shoes for kids in low-income families. He wanted to be cremated so we’re doing that. We may have a small gathering later but we don’t know the details of that yet. We’ll end by playing Name that Tune, one of his favorite games:
“Be it sight, sound, the smell, the touch.
There’s something inside that we need so much,
The sight of a touch, or the scent of a sound,
Or the strength of an Oak with roots deep in the ground.
The wonder of flowers, to be covered, and then to burst up,
Thru tarmack, to the sun again,
Or to fly to the sun without burning a wing,
To lie in the meadow and hear the grass sing,
To have all these things in our memories hoard,
And to use them,
To help us,
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