The following is one of several Collegeside member profiles written by Donna Smith over a period of several years. They tell the personal stories of some of our long-time members, some of whom are living and some of whom have gone on to be with their Lord. Their personal stories are an important part of the historical fabric of Collegeside.
Francis R. (Doc) Toline is a pioneer, following in the traditions of a family who left France in the late 1800s to build a ranch in the new territory of Nebraska. Doc did not explore and settle new lands, though. Instead, he used his mind to explore the vast, quickly developing territories of aviation and aeronautical and nuclear engineering during his military and university careers.
His military career spanned 23 years and almost as many moves to locations all over the U.S. He advanced through 14 ranks to retire from the Navy in 1960 as a Commander. During WWII he flew airships (blimps) and airplanes on patrol against German submarines along the U.S. eastern coast down through the South Atlantic. One of his assignments was to prevent German submarines from entering the Amazon River to get precious shipments of rubber.
Doc met his future bride, Edith McPherson, during the war on the last day of 1944 on what they both describe as a slow train ride through Georgia. Doc says he was completely bowled over by her and told his parents he had finally met the girl he wanted to marry. Edith, on the other hand, was not looking for anyone like Doc. He was a perfect gentleman, but she was sure she would never marry someone not a member of the Church, or a man without a college degree.
Edith had been engaged to a young man who was the brother of her roommate at Lipscomb. He became a Naval Aviator flying from the Marine Corp Air Station in Oahu. On a flight out to sea in a flying boat in 1942, the plane and crew were lost, and not a trace of crew or aircraft was ever found. When she met Doc, another Naval Aviator, she was returning from a trip to Miami to visit the lost soldier’s mother and sister.
Doc was persistent and won Edith’s hand, and he credits his wife with the sound direction of his life and of the lives of their 5 children, 13 grandchildren, and 7 great grandchildren. He and Edith have been active Christians all these years, including a seven-year stint as faculty advisors for the Collegeside Student Group before the church hired student directors.
Edith’s strong faith had roots in her childhood on her parents’ farm near Franklin, Tennessee, during the Depression years. She was baptized in the river behind the South Harpeth Church of Christ, the second oldest congregation in Tennessee and where five generations of her family had worshiped. Edith’s strong belief in the value of education is also clearly seen in her life. After attending David Lipscomb College, she taught the first four grades in a two-room school in her native Williamson County before teaching for two years in Davidson County. Then followed years of military moves and the busy life of a mother of five small children. When the family retired from the military and moved to Cookeville, Edith again entered the teaching profession by substituting in Putnam County schools for 20 years. She says she continually runs into former students and appreciates how kind they are to her.
The list of university degrees, honors, and recognitions awarded to Doc would fill two pages and includes a bachelor’s from the U.S. Naval Post Graduate School and a master’s from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was awarded a National Science Foundation Faculty Fellowship in 1964 to complete advanced studies at the University of Tennessee Space Institute. He also studied at NASA Lewis Research Center, NASA Johnson Space Center, Oak Ridge National Lab, and George Washington University.
When he retired from the military, he helped to begin the aeronautical and nuclear engineering program at Tennessee Tech. One of his accomplishments was to develop a sub-critical nuclear reactor for the engineering science department. He is a Professor Emeritus from TTU, having retired in 1981.
A visit to Doc and Edith’s home reveals so much of their lives. Military honors and academic awards share space with pictures of their growing family and souvenirs of their extensive travels, plus Doc’s paintings, carvings, and expert woodworking projects and Edith’s exquisite needlework (sometimes exhibited in a frame handcrafted by Doc). And one can see evidence of another of their passions: antiques. Doc says Edith finally learned to hold her own at an estate auction!
Doc and Edith will celebrate their 60th anniversary on September 4 of this year.