Life with Gracie: DeKalb businessman Tom Stokes a ‘paragon’ to Georgia Boy Choir


For nearly a decade, Tom Stokes has been a staunch supporter of the Georgia Boy Choir. Sometimes fundraising. Other times traveling to faraway places like Scandinavia as they sang Mozart in Latin, Bach in German and Thomas Tallis in English, of course.

Touring in Scandinavia, where his wife, Helena, grew up, was particularly heartening, he said.

After a day of punting, playing cricket on the green and sightseeing in London, the choir sang the evensong service each day in the Christ Church cathedral at Oxford College, England.

“The world would just stop,” Stokes said. “At 6, the service was over and we’d leave with a whole different feeling. To this day, I yearn for that sort of rhythm to the day. It really changed my life.”

The Georgia Boy Choir has been changing lives for nearly a decade, all the while winning respect and honor from audiences and individuals around the world, Stokes included.

But come March 23, all honor will go to Tom Stokes, who was tapped recently to receive the Georgia Boy Choir’s Paragon Award at its annual Spring Soirée Fundraiser. The event, set to begin at 7 p.m. at Mason Fine Art Gallery in Atlanta, will feature an intimate concert by the choir, celebrating the work it does in Atlanta and around the world.

Stokes is only the second — Jason Jones of Atlanta was last year’s recipient — to receive the award presented for his contributions to the community and his commitment to the mission of the choir to “Bring Beauty to Life.”

“It’s humbling,” Stokes said recently.

And given his long history with choral music, particularly sweet.

Stokes grew up listening and singing along to the 45 records his father played. If he wasn’t singing at home, he was singing at church, though, he admits he was far better at recruiting talent than singing.

Stokes would go on to hone his tenor voice for two more years and then join the Emory University Glee Club.

He graduated from Emory in 1981 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in mathematics, computer science and English literature but ended up building a successful career as a commercial real estate operator.

He sang with an Emory alumni group for three years, then took a sabbatical. In 1997, he married Helena Auvala, a commercial interior designer introduced to him by his sister, and soon returned to the stage. Singing, of course.

“When my children were born, we were members of Chamblee United Methodist Church and I sang in the choir there for probably six years,” Stokes said.

It was during that time that Stokes’ son Thomas III caught the attention of the church organist Bill Callaway, who told him about the Georgia Boy Choir.

Stokes and his wife attended an information session where choir founder David R. White shared his vision for the 80-member choir. In addition to achieving the highest possible standard of musical excellence, he hoped to instill in them a lifelong appreciation of music; an abiding love of beauty; a keen sense of respect for themselves and others; and the self-discipline necessary to become effective leaders in their families, their communities and the world.

“My wife had heard me talk about my experience in the Glee Club,” Stokes said. “When we left the meeting, she was mesmerized.”

She believed their son, who was something of a wanderer, could benefit.

In the fall of 2009, they enrolled young Thomas in the choir. Helena was right. Thomas III didn’t just enjoy singing with the choir, he excelled at it.

At the same time, Thomas was developing into quite the athlete, eventually playing varsity soccer as a freshman at Marist School.

“It was hard to remain committed to both,” Stokes said. “He sang with the choir three years and did both for that length of time but then finally had to make a choice and he chose soccer.”

Even so, Tom Stokes has remained, even singing occasionally when the choir holds annual master classes at Peachtree Road United Methodist.

Why?

Because in our culture, it’s not often boys are asked to focus on something beautiful that requires a lot of work.

“This choir is one of the few opportunities where a boy can be trained to the highest level of musical excellence, develop a lifelong appreciation for music, an abiding love for beauty and a commitment to himself and others to do good things in his community,” Stokes said. “It’s a real beacon of goodness.”

And one still sorely needed.

RELATED: 

Georgia Boy Choir to record new CD of Christmas music

Georgia Boy Choir plans tours, looks for new members

Sunday conversation with David R. White



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