UT Tower carillon player leaves lasting legacy on campus

Elizabeth Hlavinka

For six decades, Tom Anderson went up 30 floors to the top of the Tower. Tucked away in a small office, he sat down at his carillon and played.

Anderson, UT’s carillon player, died on Aug. 18 at age 93 due to complications from Parkinson’s disease, according to the Austin American-Statesman.  

Anderson first set foot on campus as a freshman in 1939, but left to serve in the Navy during World War II, only to return to the 40 Acres again in 1950. He took over the carillon from his brother David in 1952 and played until 1956. In 1967, UT’s former president Harry Ransom invited him to return to the carillon, and he continued to play until 2013, when a decline in his health forced him to abandon the bells for good.

The Knicker Carillon is the largest in Texas, with 56 bells ranging from 20 to 7,350 pounds. The instrument is played by striking one’s fist down upon a series of keys and pedals.

“It’s a wonderful instrument,” Anderson told The Daily Texan in 2011. “It’s a beautiful sound, and I just love it.”

Anderson often played “The Eyes of Texas” before football games, “Happy Birthday” upon students’ request and Christmas carols during the holidays — and April Fool’s Day.

When four students were shot and killed at Kent State University in 1970, Anderson played “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”

“Walking In A Winter Wonderland” rang from the Tower on smoldering summer days. Chopin’s “Funeral March” hung in the air each year on the first day of finals. 

Anderson told The Daily Texan in 2011 that he became partial toward international students after working in the International Office in 1966. He kept a list of the national days of various countries and often played them from the Tower.

Donna Bellinghausen, the associate vice president for student affairs, said he played “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” when it rained or when the city was wishing for it.

Bellinghausen also said Anderson had an enormous collection of sheet music, which spilled out from filing cabinets in his office. He left his collection for other carillon players when he left the University.

“He had a great sense of humor,” Bellinghausen said. “I enjoyed being around him because he always had a story to tell and was just a real joy to be around. He was a dear man, and he will be missed.”

UT alumnus Austin Ferguson met Anderson as an undergraduate in 2011 while in a carillon practice room. From there, a longstanding friendship formed. To Ferguson, Anderson was the nicest person he had ever known. He was a legend, a UT encyclopedia, overflowing with 60 years of stories.

Ferguson said he thinks Anderson’s favorite part of the job was interacting with students.

“[He was] somebody who enjoyed his role as a teacher as much as a performer,” Ferguson said. “There was a special glint in his eye when he was teaching and instructing students. He told everybody at one point that getting to spread the bells was the best part about his job.”

Beyond his love and dedication to the carillon and the larger UT community, Ferguson said Anderson’s true defining quality was his “wicked” sense of humor. 

“He made everybody laugh and [had a] jovial attitude,” Ferguson said. “If anything, I think that’s the way he would want to be remembered.”

According to the Austin American-Statesman, he is survived by his brother, Kenneth; daughter, Jean; two sons, James and Eric; two granddaughters and one great-grandson.

Anderson’s memorial service will be held at 2:30 p.m. on Sept. 18 at First Baptist Church at 901 Trinity St.