John Tomlin, friend & facilities worker

John Tomlin is a grounds worker on campus. But he is also a familiar face and friend to many students.


John Tomlin has been working at Washington and Lee for 11 years. Photo courtesy of John Tomlin.

Mimi Sherrill

When grounds worker John Tomlin remembers your name, you may feel like you’re his favorite. But don’t be fooled; he remembers the name of every student he meets at Washington and Lee University. 

“I believe in being nice to people,” Tomlin said. “I treat everyone the same.” 

Tomlin grew up in nearby Amherst County, but the university community has only known him for 11 years. In an interview, Tomlin said his favorite thing about Washington and Lee is meeting new people every day. 

“Meeting people like you. The friendly faces. I’m a talker. I love talking to people,” he said. 

Every day, Tomlin greets students with a warm smile and genuine curiosity about their lives. He asks the tough questions in all the best ways. He knows what Eleni Filley, ’22, plans to do after graduating, and he knows why she chose to attend Washington and Lee. 

Filley worked with Tomlin during her time as a residential advisor last year. Filley said Tomlin brought light and sunshine to the difficult times of the pandemic. 

“Being an RA in the freshmen dorms was really hard, and a lot of times I felt like there weren’t many friendly faces,” Filley said. “He just added so much joy when it didn’t feel like there was a lot.”

Filley said she admires Tomlin’s ability to connect with students, regardless of the constant hustle and bustle of campus. As students rush to get to class across campus, they carefully avoid the middle of the Graham Lees arch.

But you can’t avoid Tomlin, who is eagerly waiting to ask you if you’ve taken the time to admire the fall foliage. 

“If you’re walking down the hallway and he knows you, you’re not getting through without him stopping you to have a conversation,” Filley said. “You could be late to class, you could have a meeting. John is going to say, ‘Hey, how are you?’”

Tomlin shares encouragement during impromptu conversations on the colonnade, where he hands out lucky buckeyes he found beneath trees around campus. 

Filley said Tomlin’s value on campus cannot be quantified, and she will remember him as an integral part of her college experience. 

“It won’t necessarily be ‘John, the facilities worker.’ It will be ‘John, my friend,’ ” Filley said. 

If you see Tomlin around campus, do not hesitate to slow down and say hello. You may find him under the buckeye tree near the admissions building, or stopping to notice the beauty of the fallen leaves in front of Elrod Commons. 

“It’s better to look at someone and smile than to look at someone and frown. It doesn’t take any more effort to do either one,” Tomlin said.