Editor’s note: Nooga.com asked readers to share stories and memories about Bobby Stone, who died unexpectedly in a boating accident last weekend. We talked to eight of his friends for this article.
Stone’s memorial service is scheduled for Friday at 4 p.m. at Rivermont Presbyterian Church, 3319 Hixson Pike, according to Stone’s obituary, which also has information about donations in lieu of flowers.
There will also be an event Friday evening to honor Stone at the Tivoli Theater in downtown Chattanooga following the memorial.
Chattanooga entrepreneur, philanthropist and creative leader Bobby Stone was the kind of person who cleaned litter off the road—while cursing whoever threw it out—because it was the right thing to do.
He was the kind of man who walked up to strangers, asked them questions, found something in common and came away with a new friend.
“He had more friends—and I mean good friends—than anybody I’ve ever seen,” friend and Sportsbarn Managing Partner David Brock said.
Stone’s untimely death struck heartache into his huge circle of comrades, some of whom spoke about his early, groundbreaking contributions to the creative community.
Stone was the former president and co-founder of award-winning video production company Atomic Films, which was established in the 1980s and is one of downtown’s earliest creative startups.
“Atomic Films was Chattanooga’s first digital video production company, even though Bobby started in film,” friend and former BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee executive and past Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce President Ron Harr said. “He pioneered the transition to digital.”
In his retirement, Stone continued documenting and creating, often covering local protests and events, sometimes doing projects for free.
Stone also loved music, food and photography, and in recent years he often watched old shows on Turner Classic Movies, friends said.
Longtime friend Mike Pollock, who is the executive director of the Lula Lake Land Trust, went to Baylor School with Stone, became great friends with him in the mid-80s and had lunch or a drink with him every week. He recalled that once on a trip to New Orleans, Stone asked a server at breakfast if he could take her photo.
“He talked to her, and she just beamed,” Pollock said. “She came alive.”
Stone was the kind of person who called a former girlfriend every year to sing happy birthday even though they’d broken up decades ago.
He was the kind of man who saw that a local high school band needed support, so quietly rallied to raise money to help them.
Stone loved animals and oysters and boating. He had a Master Captain’s License. He got worked up about politics.
He checked on and took care of his neighbors, some of whom were elderly.
Popular Chattanooga caterer and chef Lee Towery talked to Stone multiple times a day and called him her best friend. She said Stone printed cards with his contact information on them for his neighbors; it was his way to signal, “If you need me, I’m here.”
Once, with Towery, he took out the garbage for a widow who lived on his street and spent an hour talking to her about her late husband while looking around for anything he could repair in her home, Towery said.
Owen Seaton, another friend and former creative services director for UTC Athletics, spoke about Stone’s outgoing, charitable character.
“I think the way I could sum him up best is he loved life and he loved people…” he said. “He loved the city…everything he was a part of was about making the city better.”
Stone was the kind of person who took spur-of-the-moment road trips, sometimes without a plan of where to stay, Brock said.
Friends described him as kind, intelligent, sensitive, creative, gifted and infectious.
He had a temper at times, but his positive qualities, such as his altruistic spirit, made him beloved among many Chattanoogans.
Local resident Travis White met Stone in the days of the old haunt, The Stone Lion Tavern, and the duo eventually became friends. They liked to laugh over the bushy hair and beards they shared.
“We all know he was highly intelligent, successful, good-looking, accomplished, funny, well-known and loved, but the word that keeps leaping to the forefront of my thoughts is kind,” White said. “Bobby was a kind, gentle and generous soul. Yes, kind is how I will always remember him.”
Stone was the type of person who tried and often succeeded at fixing anything from a cellphone to a broken part of a watch.
Meredith Garrett said she worked as Stone’s personal trainer for about a year, spending two mornings a week with him. As they got to know each other, he became more of a friend than a client, she said.
“When he saw that a piece on my watch was broken, he said, ‘I can fix that,’ and brought it back the next day. He’d 3D-printed a piece for it. I’ll never get rid of that watch,” she said via email.
Stone threw a book party at his house for Garrett and supported her when her family didn’t.
“He validated my pain when I told him about my family’s rejection (because I’m a woman who married a woman),” she said. “When I told him my dad wouldn’t be at our wedding, Bobby was heartbroken and said, ‘I’ll be there.’ Bobby stepped in to be my family. He embraced my wife, and he celebrated mine and Allison’s love.”
Stone was also the kind of person who encouraged and guided others.
Local cinematographer Tim Cofield celebrated his birthday with Stone about two weeks ago. Stone took a chance on Cofield when he hired him to work on an Atomic Films project. He’s also the reason Cofield met his wife.
“He was the most talented cinematographer I knew,” Cofield said. “I considered him a mentor and learned so much from him about cameras and capturing light… He was one of the [kindest] and [most] generous people I knew in Chattanooga, considering his talent and success.”
Although Seaton called him the king of upscale restaurant St. John’s, because the two couldn’t go to the local restaurant without practically every person in the place coming by to speak with Stone, Pollock said he and Stone frequented hole-in-the-wall joints.
They’d visit taco and hot fish shops. They’d search for the best fried chicken. They wanted to be the first to find the new, secret gem of an eatery.
“He had a really good ability to connect with everybody, in particular people on the short end of the ladder,” Pollock said. “He would do the high-society things when he had to—fundraising and art shows—but he was much happier with everyday folks.”
Stone was someone who people could count on, friends said.
He was a big, loving, loyal presence, Garrett said.
He was fearless and he brought people from different backgrounds together, Brock said.
“He was so damn generous and vivacious … he was this great, kind, generous, open-hearted, kind of goofy guy with massive feet who was just infectious,” he said. “Bobby was the epicenter of this big thing I was very happy and lucky to be a part of.”