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2009 Horatio Alger Award Winner

Thomas J. Shannon, Jr.

Founder, T-Bird Restaurant Group, Inc.
Founder, Village Development Co.

"Work hard, stay honest, and someone will recognize your value and give you a helping hand."

Tom Shannon was born in 1943 in Somerville, Massachusetts, but spent most of his childhood living in project housing in Charlestown. Both of his parents came from large Irish and Italian families who lived nearby. Shannon's father, who had to drop out of high school to help his family, worked three jobs delivering papers, operating an elevator in the customs house, and ushering at the local movie theater. Today, Shannon believes his father was the hardest working, most honest person he has ever known.

Although there was never enough money, the Shannon's enjoyed close family relationships. On the weekends they gathered with as many as 40 aunts and uncles and nearly 100 cousins to share Sunday dinner. But getting to and from school was always a problem for young Tom Shannon. It was typical that older boys beat up anyone who was younger and not from their block. To avoid a fight, Shannon learned to run as fast as he could on his way home from school. Once he reached his street, he was safe because the older boys in his neighborhood watched over him. When Shannon's younger sister started school, her protection in these unstable conditions became his responsibility.

In 1953, Shannon's father was forced into taking a transfer to keep his job with U.S. Customs. The family moved to Miami, where they lived in a rented duplex. Shannon, already showing signs of being a gifted athlete, joined Little League. He also began to deliver papers and mow lawns to help with his expenses. He continued playing baseball and also football in high school, where his skills as a quarterback earned him a football scholarship to the University of Florida. He double majored in marketing and management, earning a degree in 1966. In 1962, Shannon was voted Most Valuable Player in the Gator Bowl. He has been inducted into the University of Florida Hall of Fame in both football and baseball. Shannon received offers to play professionally in both sports, but he opted to stay in Gainesville so that his wife, Kathy, could finish her college education.

While his wife went to school, Shannon worked as a sales representative for Herff Jones, a collegiate jewelry manufacturer. After his wife's graduation from college, Shannon played football for a short time with the Montreal Alouettes in the Canadian League. An injury ended his ability to play professionally, however, and he returned to Florida.

Shannon became an administrative assistant at Watson and Company, an engineering/architectural firm. While there, he learned market analysis and economic feasibility. A client, Sun State Builders, hired him as project manager and soon promoted him to vice president in charge of West Coast operations. In 1976, he formed his own company, Village Development Company, and worked as a real estate developer until 1993. At that time, he formed T-Bird Restaurant Group, Inc., which develops Outback Steakhouse restaurants in California. With 63 restaurants and 5,000 employees, Shannon was recognized as Restaurateur of the Year in 2002. He is a seven-time recipient of the National Franchisee of the Year award.

The National Football Foundation Hall of Fame awarded Shannon with the Distinguished Citizen Award. He has also received the Spirit of Life Award from the City of Hope National Medical Center and Beckman Research Institute for his contributions to the community. As an honoree of the "Stars of the South," Shannon was named one of the top 100 Irish American business leaders in America in 2007.