Ellsworth “Tommy” Olds, 92, of Ellicott City, Maryland, passed away peacefully on August 31, 2021, surrounded by his beloved family.
Named initially for the then-famous circus cowboy, Tom Mix, Olds was born to parents Sylvester and Viola Brown Olds on August 26, 1929 in Newark, New Jersey who traveled up and down the East Coast with the James Strates carnival show. He grew up singing and dancing in the show until his father was killed in an automobile accident and he and his mother settled in Richmond, Virginia. He graduated from the all-Black Van de Vyer Catholic High School in 1946 and from Virginia Union University in 1950 as a proud Phi Beta Sigma.
Prevented from taking jobs for which he was overqualified due to segregation, he enlisted in the Army in 1951. As a standout soldier in his company at Fort Gordon, Georgia, he was given his choice of assignments. He followed his childhood dream and chose Military Police training and began his long and successful career in law enforcement.
Tommy joined the Augusta (Ga.) Police Department in 1960, first patrolling the Black part of town on foot because his arrest powers did not extend to white citizens and then rising through the ranks to become the town’s first Black detective. By the mid-1960s, he had established himself as a guardian of the Black community and belonged to multiple Black and white civic organizations. He had his own weekly radio show called “The Law and You” on James Brown’s WRDW-AM station in Augusta, where he developed his comedic timing and built the trust and acceptance of all the residents in Augusta. That led, ultimately, to his promotion to sergeant.
Along the way, he taught himself how to play golf, which became a lifelong love. He became a father to son Ellsworth Thomas Jr. and daughter Shellie Kim. When the town wanted to integrate the Augusta University Law School, leaders asked Tommy to break that barrier. Using the GI bill and continuing to work full-time as a vice-squad detective, he earned his juris doctorate in 1969.
In May, 1970, when a young, developmentally disabled Black man was tortured to death in his Augusta county jail cell, Tommy tried to calm Black demonstrators threatening to turn into a mob. Despite his efforts, the town of Augusta erupted into rioting, and by the end of the first night, eight Black men had been fatally shot in the back by police. The event changed Tommy’s perspective on the police department and the town. The Department of Justice, which investigated the riot, recruited him to join the Community Relations Service, “America’s Peacemaker,” as a field representative in Atlanta in November that same year. With them, he successfully handled a case where he alone met with KKK members in a South Carolina town that was threatening to close the local high school because of integration. He was promoted to management with the CRS, for which he traveled the world, helping to mediate discrimination conflicts.
He joined the United States Marshal Service in 1976, where he was the special assistant to the director. He left the government in 1978 to pursue a new career as a private detective working with law firms in Washington, D.C. and Maryland. By that time, he had already been recognized for his distinguished career including two honorary doctorate degrees from Edwards College in Florida.
In 1974, while working for the Department of Justice he met the woman he would come to refer to as “the greatest person that ever lived,” Candy Aviles, who was just starting out her law career with the Department of Justice. They married on November 7, 1976 and moved to Ellicott City where they raised three children: Zachary Olds, Genevieve Good-Malloy, and Mary Olds Brennan.
Candy and Tommy were members of the St John’s Catholic Church, in Columbia, MD, where he volunteered as a sacristan, organizing the noon Mass, for more than thirty years.
He was a passionate coach of his children’s basketball teams. He liked to joke about how he “took over” the head coaching position for the Trinity Middle School Tigers from NBA Hall of Famer Wes Unseld, who went on to coach the Washington Bullets. He brought his daughter Gen onto the boys’ team, a move that initiated her successes in high school and college.
Tommy is survived by his sons, Tommy Olds Jr. and Zack Olds and his daughters, Shellie Olds-Johnson, Genevieve and Mary, daughter-in-laws Elaine Olds and Aubree Olds, sons-in-law Nicholas Good-Malloy and Brian Brennan, and his grandchildren Tony, Dwayne, Stephen Thomas, and Jason Olds, Trey, and Halle Johnson, Jackson, Camden, and Zoey Candace Good-Malloy and Jordan Brennan. He was a man who continued to evolve and grow and was sharp and aware, engaged, interactive and in-charge into his ninth decade. He considered his children to be his proudest legacy. He would frequently tell them, “For all the things I’ve done in my life, God gave me another chance to be a better person. And I took advantage of it.”
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