Eldridge 'Toby' Gumbs, Hempstead youth football mentor, dies at 79

Toby Gumbs Eldridge Tobias (Toby) Gumbs, Lawrence High

Toby Gumbs Eldridge Tobias (Toby) Gumbs, Lawrence High School's first black quarterback and Hofstra University's first black football player and mentor of youth in Hempstead, died at Nassau University Medical Center from problems related to Parkinson disease. He was 79.

Eldridge Tobias Gumbs, one of Hofstra University's first black football players and a mentor of youth in Hempstead, died Wednesday at Nassau University Medical Center from problems related to Parkinson's disease. He was 79.

Gumbs, whom almost everyone called "Toby," was Lawrence High School's first black quarterback, family members said, but he probably made his biggest mark working with youth, whom he coached and tutored for more than 50 years.

In 2005, the Nassau County Legislature honored Gumbs for his "exceptional contributions and services."

Gumbs liked what he did, his family said.

"He expanded his leadership role by being appointed commissioner of the Long Island Midget Football League, and he was an active member of the Time Out Club at the Percy Jackson Youth Center in Hempstead," said his son, Gary, of Wheatley Heights.

Gumbs was married for 59 years to Joyce Bradley, whom he met at Lawrence High School. He was a foreman at Bancker Construction Corp. in Islandia for 50 years.

Hofstra spokeswoman Ginny Greenberg said Gumbs "certainly was among the first" black football players at the school. "He played freshman football in 1953 and 1954, and varsity in '54 and '55," she said. "He was a halfback."

His family said he left Hofstra after two years even though he had a four-year scholarship.

"You could not have a greater friend," Hempstead Village trustee Don Ryan, who also has been a longtime coach and mentor in the community, said of Gumbs. "Toby was a star."

Village trustee Perry Pettus, who lives near the Gumbs family, called Gumbs "a good friend and neighbor. His words of encouragement will always be with me."

Gumbs was longtime member of Grace Cathedral International in Uniondale.

In addition to his wife and son, Gumbs is survived by a daughter, Joyce McKnight of Germantown, Maryland; four brothers, Raymond of Wheatley Heights, Edward of Astoria, Queens; Austin of Jamaica, Queens; and Gilbert of Raytown, Missouri; two sisters, Rita Campbell of Chesapeake, Virginia, and Yvonne Coln of Hempstead; and three grandchildren.

A viewing will be held at Grace Cathedral International, 886 Jerusalem Ave., Uniondale, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, with a service to follow at 7 p.m. Burial will be at 10 a.m. Wednesday at Greenfield Cemetery in Uniondale.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story listed the incorrect hours for Tuesday's viewing at Grace Cathedral International, based on information provided by Gumbs' family.

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