Deceased June 20, 2008
Tom Hunter graduated from Amherst in 1968 with a major in religion. Among his Amherst College highlights were singing in the Glee Club and traveling as tour manager in the U.S. and Europe. The 1968 Olio shows a picture of him kissing the Pope’s ring.
After Amherst, Tom enrolled in Union Theological Seminary in New York, earned the master of divinity degree, and in 1972 was ordained in the United Church of Christ. He moved to the San Francisco Bay Area and worked as a youth minister while pursuing his music.
He wrote a lot of songs and shared them widely: children’s songs, songs to build a sense of community and cooperation among people, and songs that spoke to social issues. He performed at large church assemblies and for conferences of school teachers. He started his own recording company, The Song Growing Company.
Tom wrote of his work, “Overall I am interested in the ways that folk music has historically been an accessible way to share the common concerns of our lives. I’m also interested in the way interacting with songs and writing new ones nourishes creativity, encouraging the skills of thought and reflection, developing self confidence.”
Tom married Gwen Alley in San Francisco in 1978. They were blessed with one son, Aeden, and one daughter, Irene. Even with all the time he spent on the road, Tom devoted lots of time and love to his family.
In 1979, Tom became a very popular Bay Area radio personality with a weekly show on the ABC affiliate KGO, “God Talk,” a program exploring matters of faith.
In 1984, he and his family moved to Bellingham, WA. Tom served as part-time minister at the Lummi Island United Church of Christ while maintaining his writing and performing. In 2000 Tom and Gwen bought an eleven-acre farm where they raised animals to develop their vision for strengthening youth and adults while teaching sensitivity to the ecosystems through an organization they called PAL—Partnering with Animals for the Land. Tom and Gwen worked to limit development while protecting rain forest around the Lake Whatcom Reservoir.
For these last twenty years, Tom traveled the U.S. and Canada singing in schools, giving workshops, and presenting keynote addresses. He encouraged hundreds of teachers in their craft, while teaching about the power of music and song for people of all ages, and he presented many events through the National Bureau of Education and Research. He retired from this work in March and was awarded a Golden Apple.
He co-founded the Northwest Teachers’ Camp, now in its fourteenth year, and served as a “singer in residence” at the Bellingham public schools. The First Congregational Church (UCC) of Bellingham enlisted Tom to coordinate Christmas Eve services that drew thousands of people over the years.
In April of 2008 Tom was called to be the lead pastor of the church. Shortly afterward, he became ill with a degenerative brain disease. He managed to preach his first sermon, with limited eyesight. The disease swiftly took hold, and he died at home. On that morning, his family announced his death on the blog they had been keeping (http://tomhunterblog.blogspot.com/):
“Tom took his last breath on June 20 at 3:39 a.m. surrounded by the three of us and an amazing amount of love. We cried, laughed, prayed, embraced, hummed ‘How Can I Keep From Singing’ and sang ‘The Garden Song.’ We lit a candle and applauded a life well lived.”
The late Robert McAfee Brown, a noted theologian, author, and social activist, wrote that Tom Hunter “. . . has an extraordinary ability to take important themes of our time and render them in songs in ways that are immediately illuminating and then remain, to empower and to haunt.”
In addition to his wife and children, Tom is survived by other family members and a whole lot of loved ones and friends who keep singing his songs.