Watching death notices, while making one’s way through the sunset years, can be both sad and sometimes, when prompted to recall the good memories, profoundly gratifying. Warm memories of connection, support and good humour kindle the heart and the soul.
It is with sadness and gratitude that I learned today of the death of a friend, in his 86th year. Tom’s unforgettable smile not only gleamed from his friendly face, it seemed to come from the depths of his being. A skeptic might dismiss his affability as required by his vocation as a life insurance salesman. They would be wrong; he cannot be reduced to such an insult. Honourable and kind, deeply spiritual and endowed with an unshakeable social justice conscience, Tom’s obituary directs donations to (lifelineSyria.ca)….typical of Tom’s life-long staying in touch with events both in his community and around the world, and today focused on the millions displaced in that war-torn country.
I have a unique connection with Tom; his wife Shelagh and I share a similar health condition, and we have spoken about the symptoms and treatment in ways that do not often come along. Tom and I did some business together, in another life, and more recently, I was honoured to be a guest for dinner in his home, where I was welcomed and where our friendship was renewed. The dinner invitation came, somewhat unexpectedly, after several years of being apart, while I took a different path. However, from my perspective, there was no gap in the relationship and the conversation resumed from where it left off two decades prior, another gift of Tom and Shelagh. These are not and never have been “fair-weather-friends”…
It was at this memorable dinner when I learned that, way back in the late seventies, while in that ‘other’ life, without my knowledge,Tom had put my name forward as a potential candidate for the provincial election that was held in 1977. I did not taken up the invitation, which came to me from a very different source with Tom, of course taking a back-seat to any public notice and the shift that his support could have had on our friendship. Back then, I had a somewhat more public profile, and, while I did not then, and still do not today, share Tom’s confidence that I could or would have succeeded in being elected, the surprise and the warmth of his endorsement is one of the more memorable highlights of my life.
As an indelible mark on a timeline of a life, this moment has often resurfaced in reflections on what life might have been like, had I taken the path that endorsement would have put me on. Even those thoughts have altered my perceptions of the political headlines that continue to emerge from both Toronto and Ottawa. The man who did get that nomination, Michael Bolan, served in the provincial legislature for a brief period before becoming a judge. Although he too is deceased, and sadly missed, we spoke together about his time in politics, and his memories were not the most gratifying. I seem to recall his clear perception of the “theatre” of the public debates, the pre-rehearsal of those debates prior to their actual presentation and the lack of spontaneity, originality and authentic debate that clouded his view of the time he served.
Another of the facets of Tom’s life that we shared was his firm and unshakeable support for ecumenism. A Catholic by birth and commitment, Tom nevertheless represented the most tolerant and welcoming attitude to those of all faith communities. And I discovered this upon meeting him shortly after an editorial supporting the Vatican aired, and he took the occasion to discuss it with me.
Sometimes, even when the other person is totally unaware, that person presents a ‘light’ along the way, especially when the road seems most dark. It was in such a time that his and Shelagh’s invitation to dinner arrived, shortly after I arrived back in town after a considerable absence. There seemed, at least from this perspective, that Tom’s light shone into the dark corners of many lives, whether he was informed or consciously aware of his gift.
It takes a very special combination of integrity, authenticity, good humour, vision and indisputable trust that comprises some of the most powerful of human “lights” that cross our paths often when we least expect to have such an encounter. An English teacher in grade twelve, a twentieth-century literature scholar who taught four of the English courses I took as an undergrad, a small-town lawyer who welcomed me into his practice, a retired entrepreneur who saw something in a vision I presented, a criminal lawyer who both challenged and supported me, and a few very special students whose ‘light’ whether intellectual, emotional, social or spiritual lit up my path. It is among these mentors, coaches, friends and colleagues that I am honoured to include Tom.
It may seem somewhat cliché to say that Tom’s person radiated light, confidence and a gentle and tender kindness that is so often passed by as a sign of mature masculinity. However, this cliché fits, because like most others, it is simply true. If I remember right, he is a son of Prince Edward Island, and if so, the island and the world have lost a honoured son.
I thank God and Shelagh for sharing him with me, and for offering the kind of genuine acceptance and support, and offer my small token of remembrance and condolences to Shelagh and his considerable family. May you join the chorus of angels and sing with them forever, Tom.