A man I know passed away last week after bravely battling a terrible illness. I met Tom in 2020 when I joined the local Educational Service Center board and we became colleagues.
He was always quick with a joke, eager to put a newcomer at ease, and a smart man who was respectful of others. He liked to travel and learn. His wife Fannie also attends our meetings and is a kind soul. The two seemed perfectly matched.
But that’s the end of what I knew about Tom till I read his obituary and learned things that made me wish I had asked more questions while he was living.
Tom was a fan of lifelong learning, a Scout leader and a Sunday school teacher. He was a longtime Civil War reenactor and lifelong history buff. He enjoyed the outdoors, gardening and yard sales. Tom was an inventor who made an ice cream machine that operated by pedaling a bicycle. He even built a 1965 Plymouth from the frame up.
I always liked Tom but had no idea he was such a character. Old photos in a slideshow projected on the wall played while we waited in line. If I didn’t know it by then, it was clear that Tom packed as much living into his life as he possibly could.
I had a newfound appreciation for Tom’s zest for life.
It made me a little sad to think of all the great learning I missed out on because I knew none of this. Of course, when getting to know someone, you don’t know what you don’t know and have to rely on them to give you some clues. I suppose that’s why we often learn so much about people from their obituaries.
As I looked at Tom’s wife and son, their family and so many friends lined up to say farewell, I started thinking about how Tom left a mark on us all. Every person there knew Tom for a different reason and everyone had different stories to share. Every one of us is richer for knowing him.
Later in the evening I strolled through the holiday lights at the Gallipolis City Park and stopped to visit the war memorial. I’m typically so taken with the statue above me that I fail to notice much else.
But on this night I saw the face of the soldier reflected in the marble wall of names below. It made me pause.
It occurred to me that something of Tom is reflected in everyone fortunate to know him. It’s nice to think that humans can live on through the influences we have on others. I won’t soon forget Tom or the lessons learned during the brief time we knew each other.
One of those lessons is to do a better job listening and paying attention so I can learn something I never knew I wanted to know.