Tom’s Diary…

tomIn January, we took WHYS to the CCMI soup kitchen in Fort Myers, Florida.

The place was recommended to us by colleagues at our partner station WGCU  and we went there a few days after President Obama’s inauguration.

The man you see to your right is Tom, a man who i’m very glad i persuaded to come and talk to us on air.

He was the star of the show because of his Irish- American humour, warmth and ….yes, i know it’s an over-used word, his dignity.

tom and me An hour or so before the show started i went outside the kitchen and sat down with Tom (left).

The place had not only impressed us with the care and professionalism of the helpers and the staff, but had also surprised us by it’s being needed at all.

On an unseasonably chilly day – just after an unseasonably frozen night – Tom told me his story.

He’d come from Chicago, where he’d lost his job and home (and wife) and found himself on the road when all other options had run out.

He mentioned a son too, but the look on his face made it clear this wasn’t going to be a welcome area of conversation with a man he’d just met.

He said he’d made some bad calls, maybe got a few things wrong, but he said he always wanted to work and had done occasionally as a labourer before winding up in Florida – attracted by all the building going on there – and the weather.

He said he was in his 50’s but he looked older and he said that he hoped Barack Obama would win the election. Not just for him, but for the soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Tom had also been “rolled” – he’d had his possessions stolen, and on that day, he was there to get a replacement kit- supplied by the kitchen, of a new blanket and a washing kit.

He told me that things come and go, but what he was most sad about was his diary. That , he said, couldn’t be replaced.tony and tom

From deep in his pocket he produced the one thing they hadn’t stolen ; a battered watch with a brown leather strap. It was, he said, his father’s and he kept it on him at all times. 

I asked Tom if he’d come in and talk on the show. “Why not ?” he said, it wasn’t like he had anything else to do. And he was brilliant with his wit and deep rich voice, hardened by years on the road.

In a fit of sentiment, i went to our (warm) car and brought him out my West Ham scarf. “You’ll be the only one wearing one of these in Florida” i said.

Tom died last week- hit by a car while walking in the traffic . A victim of a so-called “hit and run”.  Ros says he was told that Tom may have been back on the drink , and this may have contributed to his death, but no-one is sure.

We are extraordinarily privileged on WHYS to travel around the world to create conversations- and we have met some amazing people who don’t leave the memory.  

Tom was one of those – a man i’m very glad i met, and i can’t help wondering if he was carrying the diary we sent him after the show, and what he may have written in it.

When the show was over, we had packed up, loaded the car and were saying our goodbyes. Only one of the customers was still there ; Tom, wearing his new scarf and smiling when someone walked past him and said “there’s a career for you in radio Tom……”

14 Responses to “Tom’s Diary…”

  1. 1 Dennis Junior
    October 6, 2009 at 11:32

    Thanks, for the excellent information about Tom!

    ~Dennis Junior~

  2. 2 Michael in Ft. Myers, Florida
    October 6, 2009 at 12:48

    I manage the Island Coast AIDS Network Food Pantry, and I can tell you that almost all of my clients have similar stories, and while the minutia might be a bit different from family to family, I can tell you that it is a sad tragedy that I see repeated all too often here in Ft Myers. Some feel ashamed because of past indescretions and their new need to utilize the pantry, and I remind them over and over again that we are NOT here to judge, we are here to help. All humans have made mistakes, and I find that the majority of my clients are in their position due more to our failed health system than to any mistakes made by them. I become quite angry when I hear people make uninformed judgements about the many many local people in need. The local police force seems to have a task force set up exclusively to harrass the needy, I have both witnessed and been the victim of this harrassment many times now, but most of the conservative locals just don’t care about that, they’d rather not see “those bums” anywhere, as told to me by more than one police officer.

  3. 3 patti in cape coral
    October 6, 2009 at 12:48

    I’m sorry about the sad news about Tom and I remember that show very well, I was not happy to be at work and missing it! My condolences go out to all who knew and cared for him.

  4. 4 Nigel
    October 6, 2009 at 13:55

    Your blog paints a very hearfelt picture of someone who cares about people and a person who he cared about. Its a tough world out there and sorry to hear that Tom twice fell victim to it.

  5. 5 scmehta
    October 6, 2009 at 14:11

    After all, life is all about memories:
    ” we live by the Moments in Time, to perish;
    for love of the Bits of Thoughts, to cherish ”
    (this couplet was composed/written by me)
    Tom did lose the most precious possession of his life.

  6. 6 Invisible People
    October 6, 2009 at 14:16

    Read Toms Diary and had to respond because something about it touched me.

    We go about or busy lives day to day and either don’t see or look past all the Toms out there.. without a thought. Today do something different and when you see another Tom, look again and and you’ll see another human being just like you and not an invisible man.

  7. 7 nora
    October 6, 2009 at 14:35

    Thank you for giving outdoorsmen a voice, and in Tom’s case, a lovely scarf smelling of world travel which perhaps enriched his remaining dreams and stories.

  8. 8 Tom K in Mpls
    October 6, 2009 at 15:34

    Never judge a persons ability by what they do unless you know their desires.

  9. October 6, 2009 at 15:47

    Today, I cried, i found myself shedding tears while walking on the road, it was really so embarrassing, but not more embarrassing than what i was going through. I was going through reality, i worked for 12months, as a part time worker in an internet cafe, while i was attending college, the place was owned by a friend, one that i felt i trusted, 12months with out paying me, he sold the business with out my knowledge, a new owner takes up the place and im invited back to work, I’d to forget all about the 12months payment, cause this now, was a new management, and in a country with more unemployed people that the available job opportunities, rarely do people that work jobs like the one i was, get work contract, you are contracted by word of mouth, so you can not sue in case you have a right to cry foul. Five months after working with the new management, i was layed off with out an explanation,i’d worked five months with just promises of an upcoming payment, after i lost the job, i kept demanding for my pay, until i gave up. Now through with school, with a bachelor’s degree in computer science, i cant find a job, a friend of mine helped me get one, i peddle cakes, i move on the streets selling banana cakes, im laughed at, humiliated. A friend of mine that even didnt complete high school, was the reason for my crying, he made me realize wut i was doing, i hadnt, i realized today, that i actually work for 1500/=(Ugandan shillings) per day, thats less than a dollar a day, i am another tom, and his story, just breaks my heart, the storms of life never part with us, while others are bailed by tax payers and keep their jobs to buy golden parachutes and be paid telephone number figure salaries, some of us, are left for naught.

  10. 10 Dave in Florida
    October 6, 2009 at 17:52

    I am sorry to hear of Tom’s passing, and equally sorry to say that I searched the archives of the local newspaper (The News Press) and found nothing on the accident. Yes, Tom was an invisible person here in conservative SW Florida, and most of the locals are probably glad to know there is now one less of “those bums.”

    Rest in Peace Tom. You were not invisible to us.

  11. 11 Mark Sandell
    October 6, 2009 at 18:32

    Dave in Florida, couldn’t agree more in so far that he wasn’t invisible to us- even just a few hours we spent with him.
    and Michael, i don’t doubt for a second that Tom’s story isn’t typical.
    We heard today, by the way, from staff at the kitchen that our programme helped Tom – in so far that it helped him with his family and although it clearly didn’t change his life, for a little while it made it better.
    For all of us who met him ; Ros, Kroops and myself- this is oddly comforting.

  12. 12 Robert Evans
    October 7, 2009 at 00:05

    Its a shame that Tom has died and I wouldnt want this thing “hit and run” to any I ever known. I find Toms story a very strange story yet understandable. Because in the UK when you lose your job you just go to the job centre. I know this as this is what I have been doing since July 2008

  13. 13 Tom D Ford
    October 8, 2009 at 00:45

    Well, Old Grandpa Radio, Mark, I think this is some of the best kind of radio you can do. You remind me of Studs Terkel, and that is one of the highest compliments I can offer.

    Thanks for talking to Tom and thanks to Tom for talking to us.

    Tom, sorry that we all didn’t do better by you. I know we can. I hope that we will.

  14. 14 paul8222
    October 8, 2009 at 15:31

    The depth of the human interest and the compassion shown is unusual. Wish there were more of it in this country as wellas over there.

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