Deceased November 3, 2013
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