I never met Tom but God did have Wendi cross my path and through her I have followed her journey from the very beginning of his illness. I will never forget how amazing I thought she was from our first conversations. She truly loved her father and still does today. She threw her entire being into honoring this man until he passed from this earth to the heavenly realm where he is completely at peace and feeling a joy that we here on earth cant imagine. That is the promise of our Father. There will be no tears in heaven. Wendi told me a story about some pennies that were found after he passed and each one had a date on them which symbolized a special time. I think they were found on a window sill. I have been training for a Half Marathon for about six months now but ever since she shared that story with me I make sure that I pick up every penny that I might otherwise run passed. I usually call Wendi to let her know her Tom is thinking of her. Funny thing is that it's usually when she is missing him. So Tom, thank you for Wendi. She makes me laugh, she makes me cry and she is the most determined person I have ever met. You live on in her and I thank you for her. Today I found a penny, Just laying on the ground. But it's not just a penny, This little coin I've found. Found pennies come from heaven. That's what my Grandpa told me. He said Angels toss them down. Oh, how I loved that story. He said when an Angel misses you, They toss a penny down, Sometimes just to cheer you up, To make a smile out of your frown. So don't pass by that penny When you're feeling blue; It may be a Penny from Heaven That an Angel's tossed to you. Pass this on to the people who you care about and who you feel that are angels to you. An angel is now watching over you
For about a year now, we have known this day was coming. Longer than that, we knew something was wrong. By the end, Tom had contemplated and come to peace with his fate. I spent a week with him earlier this month. The disease had taken a toll on him, but his personality still shone through. He was fuzzy on some details, but he knew what mattered to the end. One evening, as I sat with him, he asked me, “Have you always been my friend?” I told him yes. Although I had only known Tom for a little over a decade, I felt as if I had always been his friend. Tom had a way that invited deep loyalty and respect. As we sat, he put his hand on my knee and said, “Pete, I’ve lived a good life.” Many measure life by the experiences they live, and Tom had many amazing experiences. Growing up on the West Side, he probably never imagined the places he would see. Before his teens were over, he had seen Germany, then the front line of a Cold War, before deploying to Nha Trang, Vietnam. The National Guard took him to Honduras, and frequent trips to Camp Greyling, Michigan, of which he had many stories. But his favorite trips were those he took in his black truck, adventuring out West or going to visit his grandchildren. He spent weeks trekking across the back roads of the West, camping out of his truck and making it to 12,000’ elevation at the Canadian border. Visits with his grandkids took him to Florida, Texas, North Carolina, California, and even Germany, Oman, and Dubai. But life isn’t just about the experiences and the postcards, it is also about values, service, and accomplishments. In a time of war, when many were looking for excuses, Tom volunteered for the Army. After holding the line against the Soviet Union in Germany, he spent 13 months in and around Nha Trang, Vietnam, a combat veteran. He spent over 20 more years in the National Guard. In that time, he was proudest of his deployment to Honduras and the time he spent taking care of troops and future leaders at annual training and officer candidates’ school. His primary career, too, was one of service. He was a highly respected mechanic at the Ohio Department of Transportation. On late nights, holidays, and weekends, he and his drivers were the ones salting and plowing the roads, keeping us all safe. And, unlike the many people today who were content to criticize, but not act, he served our political system. He was President of the South County Republican Club for a time and a habitual volunteer poll worker and community volunteer. Yet, we live on not through our personal experiences or values, our beliefs or our accomplishments, but through our relationships and the memories of those relationships. And that was Tom’s strong suit. Tom was just one of those men that others want to know and to love. He never spoke of what he alone accomplished, but he talked often of how he took care of those who worked with and for him. He was a leader of men. I felt that in the decade that I knew him, but I really never realized the reach of his influence until the last few days. From relatives, military comrades, and state workers alike, I heard the words “big brother.” He was a big brother to all. One who would do those fun things we all want big brothers to do, but also doing those difficult things: taking care of us all. I heard the story of how he led a friend to safety through a rocket attack, even stopping to pick up someone they did not know along the way. He was a rare leader, especially in today’s world. As one of his friends told me, “He knew all the regulations. And he knew how to get the mission done.” Too often, people use the regulations as an excuse not to get the mission done. He took that mindset into the civilian world, where he was a big brother to his coworkers at ODOT. But, most of all, he was a patriarch. He was the bridge between multiple families, loved by all. I wish he could have been there at the Manor last night, and heard the stories; shared in the smiles and memories. Brother, cousin, uncle, father. He was more than a relation. He was a role model. He reveled in his role as a father and especially a grandfather. He couldn’t have been prouder of his daughters, Wendi and Delilah. He quite literally traveled the world to see his grandchildren, Kyla, Riley, Kamryn, and Lauren. All across the United States, and even to Europe and the Middle East, he was there for birthdays, holidays, and even broken arms in Dubai. And we came to him. Grandpa’s house, Grandpa’s garage, were special, magical places for the grandkids. In the end, many were there for Tom, but no one like Fran. Since February 12, 1965, when they met at a Valentine’s Dance, she was his girl. Through it all, she was there for him. They had two wonderful daughters that he doted. Four grandchildren that he traveled the world to spoil. And to the end, Fran was there, by his side. Family came from all over to help, but Fran would not leave his side. With the patience of a saint, she cared for him, loved him, and stood by him until the very last. Her loyal devotion is a testament to the man that she loved. That we all loved. Many are eulogized as special men… leaders. Few actually are. He looked into my eyes and told me that he was ready. That he lived a good life. He was right.