The Hawkins family heritage: A lasting legacy


Tommy Hawkins ’59 led a huge life both on and off the court. A southside Chicago native, Hawkins was recruited to Notre Dame and was the University’s first Black basketball All-American. Sixty-five years after his graduation, Hawkins remains Notre Dame’s all-leading rebounder. It is the longest standing school record in the history of Notre Dame basketball. He spent years in the NBA and then forged his way into sports broadcasting. His career ended with an 18-year run as vice president of communications for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Hawkins once recounted his time under the Golden Dome as the best four years of his life. He entered Notre Dame’s Ring of Honor with his name and #20 hanging in the rafters at Purcell Pavilion. Now, his family carries on his legacy at Our Lady’s University.

Kevin Hawkins ’81, Tom’s son, is a community fellow at the Center for Social Concerns. Spenser Hawkins, Tom’s grandson, is a cook at Rohr’s inside Morris Inn — directly in the shadow of the Golden Dome.

“When I think of Notre Dame, I think of excellence and accomplishment, everything I was told my grandfather did growing up,” Spenser said.

Another of Tom’s grandchildren, Kevin’s daughter Selina Hawkins, works inside Duncan Student Center at Chick-fil-A and was extremely close to her grandfather. 

At first, Tom’s family wasn’t pleased with his decision to attend Notre Dame. His mother, on the other hand, loved the idea. And, as soon as Tom made his way to campus, he knew he was home.

“There I was, a hopeful young Black teenager beneath the Golden Dome at one of the most prestigious universities in the world, which happened to be led by a steadfast and resilient civil rights-minded president, Father Theodore M. Hesburgh,” said Hawkins in “Black Domers: African-American Students at Notre Dame in Their Own Words,” edited by Don Wycliff and David Krashna. “Father Ted always preached the dignity of man regardless of race, creed, or color. He marched with the champion of human rights, Dr. King. Father Hesburgh was far ahead of society. He made it perfectly clear to the nation that anywhere Notre Dame’s minority students weren’t welcome, neither was Notre Dame. With that as a foundation and imbued with a pioneering spirit engendered by Major League Baseball’s barrier-breaker Jackie Robinson, I embarked on my mission.”

The mission was similar for both Spenser and his grandfather, who share many of the same characteristics. Spenser, a creative, loves playing guitar, skateboarding and crafting memorable meals. Tom, also a creative, loved jazz, sports broadcasting and basketball. The two wrote poetry together over the phone for years. “There’s an artist in a little bit of everyone in their approach to everything they do,” Spenser said.

Spenser was also born in Chicago, but his family relocated to Las Vegas. When the cooking bug hit, Spenser eventually found his way to some of the top kitchens in the Neon City — Momofuku and Beauty & Essex. “I was able to work under Chef Chris Santos, and the passion fell into my lap out of nowhere,” he said. He returned to South Bend to move closer to his father, and has been at Rohr’s for two years, working under Calvin Metts, Morris Inn executive chef.

“Rohr’s has opened up so many doors into new genres of food,” Spenser said. “Being in Vegas I was spoiled, but being out here, I’m learning different Midwestern-style cuisine. The food I cook is very honest and homey. It’s special.”

Spenser has been perfecting his gumbo, which guests might see on an upcoming menu at Rohr’s, and he works closely with Metts on events like Notre Dame Family Wines dinners and Sunday Night Dinners.

It’s through the legacy of his family, and through some of the guests at Rohr’s, that Spenser hears invaluable stories about his grandfather’s impact on the University. “At first I didn’t even know what to think about the stories I was hearing,” he said. “He was always so humble. A lot of these stories I’ve heard from Joe Mulligan ‘59, who lived in the same hall as my grandfather.”

Spenser uses his teammate attitude just as his own grandfather did on the court. “Getting to know the person you’re working with on the line, promoting family culture, it shows on the plate and it also translates to our guests at Rohr’s.”

He says his time at Notre Dame carrying out his grandfather’s legacy is beyond precious. “To be able to represent the Hawkins name here in my own way at the University and have a positive impact in my field of work — it means everything to me.”

Originally published by Molly Di Carlo at on Feb. 13.