Deceased November 3, 2013

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50th Reunion Book Entry


In Memory

Tom, our classmate and friend for 57 years, unexpectedly passed away early on Sunday, November 3, 2013, following surgery for removal of a spot on his lungs. Until that evening he was apparently undergoing a satisfactory rehabilitation in the hospital. What went downhill so rapidly for Tom is unclear. Following is an excerpt from an email that Tom sent to Dave Wood '60, Tom Elder '60 and others on October 12:

"Had the follow-up CT scan on my lung on Friday, October 11. The bad news is that the spot is still there and just a little bigger. The consensus among the attending docs is that it exhibits all the indications of a cancer. The good news is 1) there is no evidence of its having spread anywhere else, and 2) the probability of a successful surgical removal of that portion of the upper lung harboring the little devil is quite high."

On the 14th Tom wrote again, indicating the October 28 scheduled date for surgery: "It’s described as ‘minimally invasive, video-assisted thoracoscopy,’ with a hospital stay of three to four days following surgery, barring complications. Recovery at home should be relatively easy …" In recent years Tom and Tom Elder '60 occasionally met for lunch, and in late September, they agreed to meet to watch the November telecast of the Amherst vs. Williams game, but the meeting did not occur.

Tom grew up in Missouri and credited his coming to Amherst to a member of the Class of ’56, whom he greatly respected. He had been an outstanding student in Jefferson City, receiving state recognition. At Amherst Tom was front and center--a “larger than life, very dynamic presence,” as expressed by Dick Weisfelder '60. Yet, in his pleasant, giving way he was often seen accompanying Darold Greek '60 around the campus or joining in volunteer activities. He was very outspoken and enthusiastic concerning just about everything. We all knew when he had an opinion, and at times regretted that he did, even if he was correct. (Tom, did you really have to report me, your roommate, for driving illegally in Amherst?) Tom, George Woody '60, Ken Zauber ’59 and I shared quarters at the Beta house our junior year and started by slapping a coat of blue paint onto our combination study/social room. He ran as tight a ship as you could in our room and at Beta in those days, especially as fraternity treasurer. With so many athletes participating in various seasonal sports and in training, he collected dues on the quite equitable “seasonal drinker” rule relating to time (seasons) allowed at the fraternity bar. This was not a new concept, but he modified and enforced it religiously despite being married and living off campus the second semester of our senior year.

After Amherst, Tom moved to the San Francisco Bay area and lived there the rest of his life. Having gained experience attempting to run a tight ship in his undergraduate days, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy, earned his wings, and after five years of active duty remained in the navy reserves retiring with the rank of captain after 26 years. During this time Tom obtained a master's degree in theology and then proceeded to work in the banking industry until retiring almost 20 years ago. Along the way, he cultivated his intense passion for the opera and pursued his “giving way” as a hospice volunteer, 30 year Rotary member and various teaching and vocational programs at an Episcopal church in Oakland. Tom married Pat, his third wife, shortly after our 50th Class Reunion.

Reuben Clay '60, Russ Kirschenbaum '60 and Tom Elder '60 and his wife, Jackie, attended Tom’s funeral service, which in Tom Elder’s words “was a two-hour service totally designed by TS right down to the wording on the front cover. It was made long because TS had us sing every verse of every hymn. Catholics would sing just one verse and call it a day. Also making it a long service, about 12 people got up to say something; I was one of them.” My lasting recollection of Tom is giving each other hugs under the 50th Reunion tent at Amherst, both pledging to see each other again for our 55th in 2015. Rest in peace, Tom.

Dave Keffer '60

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50th Reunion

Tom Swearengen 60.png Some may recall that I was married to my 1st wife, Annie, the governor's niece, when I returned for the final semester of our senior year. Following graduation I was offered a job with IBM, with a choice of training in Dallas, St. Louis, or San Francisco. That was a "no brainer."

We settled in San Francisco where my first child, Libby, was born. I soon left IBM and began a long career in financial services, starting out in savings and loan. We moved to Berkeley, the marriage broke up, Libby and her mother took off for Australia, and I almost got drafted. Instead of ending up in the Army, however, I enlisted in the Navy.

I spent 18 months training as a Naval Flight Officer, and the next 3 & 1/2 years flying around the Pacific in big airplanes chasing Russian submarines and surface warships. I visited Vietnam briefly in '66 for a few hours, and then flew a I0-hour night patrol over the Tonkin Gulf. Fortunately, I never had to return to Vietnam and I never had to fire a shot in anger in my entire Navy career.

While on active duty I had my good fortune to marry again, this time into a longer-lasting relationship with Nancy, the Phi Beta Kappa from Cal. Taking full advantage of Navy medical benefits, we were blessed with the births-at Stanford Hospital for $25 each-of our son, Steve, in '66 and our daughter, Molly, in '68.

After 5 years duty in the Navy, I entered a PhD program in religious history at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, harboring an illusion of teaching history and religious studies at the college level in the late '70s. Two years and a Masters degree later, I saw that I was way out of my intellectual depth, so I spent the final 2 years of my fellowship in the business school at Cal. Armed thusly, I went to work for the next 18 years for what is now Wells Fargo Bank--when banking was still an honorable profession. Concurrent with my banking career-- I retired in the late '90s as probably the only vice president in a California bank with a Masters degree in theology--I had the privilege of serving the country as an active member of the Naval Reserve for nearly 26 years, retiring as a Captain.

ThomasSwearengen60(1).png In '73 we bought a house in the Oakland hills, and the next 2 decades were spent about as conventionally and comfortably middle class as one can imagine. Time and energy were devoted to working, parenting, vacationing, worshiping, attending opera, and maintaining home and garden. One of the highlights was a reunion with Libby after 15 years, resulting in her loving incorporation into our family. She was already in college at Smith, but she took a year off to live with us in CA. In due course we managed to shepherd our own kids through college, Steve in architecture at the University of Washington and Molly in liberal studies at San Diego State.

Meanwhile, I got hooked on sailing. Most bankers play golf, but being the maverick, I rejected golf and joined a sailing dub. I got certified as a charter captain which enabled me to charter sailboats not only in San Francisco Bay, but also anywhere in the world. This led eventually to sailing holidays in some of the most exotic and picturesque locals: Turkey, the British Virgin Islands, New Zealand, Mexico, France, and the Australian Whitsunday Islands. Then, after sailing other's boats for over 20 years, I decided to sail my own. In the spring of '01, I took my delivery of a new Beneteau 34' sloop, and now do most of my sailing on San Francisco Bay.

Life has not always been such a bowl of apricots, however. The kids having graduated college, Nancy and I were cruising along "fat, dumb, and happy," enjoying a comfortable little sabbatical from our careers, when all hell broke loose on October 20, 1991.  Some may remember that date as the day of the great Berkeley-Oakland Hills Firestorm.

The previous 30 years, BTF (Before the Fire), were a mere prelude to the challenges, trauma, grieving, and pain we were to face following that fire. In the course of a single afternoon and evening we lost all our material possessions, save a couple of toothbrushes, along with our home. We muddled through the early weeks after the fire in somewhat of a daze, with a lot of help and support from our kids and our friends. We also re-discovered one of the eternal truths of human existence that we are defined by the quality of the relationships we maintain and nurture and not by the material possessions and "toys" that we own. Our personal worth and wealth lies in the lobe, compassion, and caring support that we share with others, and that comes back to us in times of need. And it surely came back to us, in abundance, following that fire.

So if life hands you a lemon, you make lemonade. The silver linings around the dark clouds of the fire included our decision to rebuild with our son, Steve, as designer of the project. This resulted in the launching of his career as a successful architect. Molly's career as human resources professional got off the ground as well following the fire, and she is now the West Coast Director of Human Resources for a major entertainment company based in New York. Libby's career in medical technology was already on track, and she has since relocated to Pennsylvania were she is Director of Regulatory & Clinical Affairs for a global medical device company that makes spinal implants.

I bask unabashedly in the reflected glory of my children's' successes, and relish in the love and affection of their six beautiful grandchildren whom I have been blessed (3x2=6)!

ThomasSwearengen60(2).png The sacred texts of our Judeo-Christian tradition have always called me to do justice, love kindness and to love my neighbor. Having earlier received an abundance of love and kindness from family, friends, and other members of the community, I feel compelled to give some measure back to the community. I have been privileged to be involved in various community and volunteer activities, and to have undertaken several ministries in my local church as well as at the Episcopal seminary an the GTU. I have been a member of the advisory board of the USS Potomac (FDR's presidential yacht), and coordinator of adult education at St. John's Episcopal Church. I am currently a hospice volunteer, a member of the Alameda Rotary Club, and international organizations promoting human rights, LGBT equality, public health, environmental stewardship, and civic liberties.

I've learned over these 50 years that circumstances arise which demand choices and action. My life has been about seizing the opportunities and facing the challenges which various circumstances have presented. I make no excuses, and I take full responsibility for those decisions. No Nobel prizes; no PhDs, no public offices held; no published works; but there is a bound Masters thesis gathering dust on a shelf in the GTU library in Berkeley that has my name on it. Many adventures, lessons, and choices lie behind me, and today I look forward to a life of closer relationships and greater insights, together with more adventures on the high seas!

"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by and that has made all the difference."

This reflection is dedicated to my children who know me better than I know myself; to LCDR Tom Pikington, USNR, who didn't make it home; to the memory of Jim Pike, Jim Glasse, Bill Johnston, and John Lancaster '50, the finest mentors anyone could hope for; and to my late parents Erline and Walter who made it all possible.