I Have a Story


The next time you litter, remember this 78-year-old man with arthritis

Posted at 10:31 AM, Nov 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-06 08:39:14-04

CAROLINE COUNTY, Va. — Tommie Trimmer lives his life by the book. The man from Ruther Glen has handled more hardcovers than a librarian. Tommie bounded books by hand by the tens of thousands. It was a skill he learned from his dad when he was a teen.

“I loved doing it. I thought it was a great job,” Trimmer said. “About the best you could do by hand was about 300 a day.”

The Richmond native’s career lasted on and off for 40 years.

Automation, he said, sent bookbinding the way of the stagecoach.

“You can take a whole library and put it on a thumb drive,” he said.

When he retired around the year 2000, the widower needed to turn a page. These days the 78-year-old has exchanged his vintage press for a picker. His new toy is an essential tool for his hobby of hunting.

His prey? A trail of trash.

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A couple of times a week the fluorescent figure sets out along Ruther Glen Road to pick up trash.

Twelve years ago, Trimmer heard neighbors complain about garbage from truck stops and gas stations along Route 207. So he decided to act alone.

“Bottles, cans. You’ll pick up pooped-up diapers. There are needles out there. I get gallon milk jugs full of pee,” Trimmer said.

Working at a slow and steady pace, Trimmer does not stop.

“I see the beauty after I pick the trash up,” he said. “It looks horrible till you pick it up.”

He fills bucket after bucket.

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This is no quiet country lane. Trimmer shares the road with an endless convoy.

“They’ll toot their horn or say ‘thank you,’" he said. “That makes you feel great. Makes you feel worthwhile.”

He is not on the county or commonwealth’s payroll. Tommie’s reward is a neat neighborhood.

“I’m always looking for a $100 bill,” Trimmer said. “Wouldn’t it be nice to find a $100 bill?”

What makes his trash task even more remarkable is that Trimmer is racked from head to toe with rheumatoid arthritis.

“I’m unstable on my feet. I am nowhere near as good as I used to be,” he said.

Discomfort follows step by step.

“My doctors told me that if I didn’t walk I’d end up in a nursing home or wheelchair,” he said.

And Tommie can barely bend his fingers.

“My hands shake. I can’t help it,” he said. “I still do it for some reason.”

Cleaning up keeps Trimmer from getting down in the dumps.

“I feel a lot better out here walking than I do at home sitting in the rocker,” he said.

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With his health failing, Trimmer considered hanging up his vibrant vest for good. But piles of trash keep fueling his crusade.

“How much trouble is it to simply wait and throw it in the trash when you get home,” he said.

Tommie Trimmer is one man doing his part.

“I wanted our roads to stand out where people would go ‘Wow!’” he said.

The former bookbinder is working to keep his corner of Caroline County clean from cover to cover.

“As long as with effort I can walk I will devise a way to pick it up,” he said. “I will do my best.”

Tommie won’t be retiring from his trash-collecting anytime time soon. VDOT just dropped off a six-month supply of heavy-duty garbage bags that he now feels obligated to fill.

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