Coble Trench Safety Inc. President Tom Coble was killed in a plane crash Friday, Jan. 20.
GREENSBORO, NC -- Tom Coble, founder and president of Greensboro, NC-based Coble Trench Safety (CTS), died in a plane crash January 20, 2012, shortly after takeoff from a regional airport in Rainbow City, AL.
Traveling alone, Coble was flying his L-39 Albatross fighter jet back to Burlington, NC. His plane, a Czechoslovakian experimental class aircraft, had undergone routine service and maintenance in Gadsen, AL. Less than a minute after takeoff, the plane caught fire and came down in a wooded, marshy area approximately two miles from the airport. Authorities are investigating the accident; the cause has not yet been determined.
Coble was 58 years old. With more than 42 years of flying experience, he was a well-experienced pilot who owned multiple planes and was happiest when in the cockpit. He often joked with friends and family that he stayed in business to support his flying habit.
In 2002, he founded Coble Trench Safety, a regional firm specializing in the rental and sales of trench and traffic safety equipment, as well as OSHA-compliant training classes. CTS has 11 branches from Baltimore, MD, to Knoxville, TN, to Atlanta, GA.
Prior to founding CTS, Coble established and grew Coble Cranes & Equipment/Coble Rents, a Greensboro, NC-based firm he sold in 1999 to a publicly traded company.
Coble’s natural entrepreneurial bent was evident early in his career. After graduating from Liberty University, he became the executive pilot for the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, former president of Liberty University. While waiting for Falwell to finish speaking engagements, Coble would work the phones at regional airports, calling local construction firms to see if they were interested in buying or selling equipment. His sideline interest soon turned into a full-scale brokerage. Conflicted by a desire to be in ministry and business, his mind was set at ease by a piece of timely advice from Rev. Falwell: “Tom, God needs businessmen just like he needs pastors.” Emboldened and freed by that advice, Coble went into business full time and launched what was to be a truly remarkable career.
Coble developed a philosophy of business that was firmly grounded in his faith. Among his heroes were R.G. LeTourneau, Art DeMoss and Stanley Tam, men whose beliefs and generosity were unashamedly intertwined with the companies they operated. When asked about his personal success in business, Coble would often reply, “Business is simple. Faith and hard work go hand-in-hand. You pray as if everything depends on God, and you work as if everything depends on you. ”
Among numerous other honors, Coble received the 2011 Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award, given in recognition of his leadership at Coble Trench Safety in the Carolinas and beyond. Coble’s quick wit, positive attitude, unstoppable drive and solid faith made him a force in his industry.
Despite the business success that would distinguish a lesser man, those who knew Tom will remember him for a higher purpose. Coble leveraged his natural affinity for business to fund numerous ministries and charities on the local, regional, national and international levels. One of his greatest delights was personally signing checks each month for the outreaches and efforts he supported. Coble was particularly interested in helping young people grow into motivated Christian leaders, a conviction that caused him to be involved in Alamance County’s Young Life chapter.
A solid and unapologetic Christian, Coble attended Harvest Baptist Church in Burlington and led Alamance County’s Coalition of Concerned Christians. Among other charitable contributions, Coble personally paid for a radio tower in South America to open a new region for the Bible Broadcasting Network. In every check his company issued, Coble made sure a Gospel tract was tucked in to prompt the recipients to consider where they would spend eternity.
Coble is survived by his wife, Debby Coble; parents, PJ and Donna Coble; son, Matt Coble; future daughter-in-law, Ning Yang Gu; daughter, Misty Hedspeth; son-in-law, Matt Hedspeth; and grandchildren: Ryan, Peter and Rosemary.
Effective immediately, Matt Coble, Tom Coble’s son, will assume the role of president of Coble Trench Safety. Brett Sondergard will continue to serve as Vice President of Sales. Despite its considerable loss, Coble Trench Safety will continue to grow and serve customers across the Southeast.
“The employees of Coble Trench Safety have lost a remarkable leader,” said Steve Barnhardt, CTS Regional Manager. “Tom was a man of conviction, faith and integrity. He will be greatly missed.”