Mahler, Tom

Died: December 16, 2008

Ken Willcox’s remarks at Tom’s funeral:

My name is Ken Willcox. I’ve been a friend of Tom’s for over 45 years. We started out as college classmates at Williams in Massachusetts. We were also duck hunting partners every year since then until his stroke 8 years ago, and we even made some hunting forays after that. I wanted to share a few observations about this remarkable and wonderful guy.

Tom was one of the very brightest and funniest people I have ever known. He was energetic, intellectually curious, adventurous, loving and loyal. But to me the history of riotously funny vignettes with Tom was so vast, all I had to do was look at him, and I’d start laughing as the memories flooded back.

Tom was granted a scholarship to Williams. Back then, that was not a common or easily achieved event. He majored in English, and it showed. He had a terrific vocabulary, and his ability to express himself in unique twists of phrases and perspectives was marvelous. We developed a short hand vocabulary for ourselves that probably only we understood. One of his inventions was the carbometer, which allegedly measured the caloric content of the donuts we were consuming.

He was as close to a renaissance man as I knew. His interests included flying planes, football, opera, travel, home remodeling, the law, finance, the outdoors, family and Barb, not at all in order of importance. Did I say Barb??

He played center on the Williams freshman football team. He was really quite a strong and athletic guy. The realization that he wouldn’t get an NFL contract came in the game against the University of Vermont. The Vermont defensive lineman across from Tom thought that he had been celebrating a Williams score with too much enthusiasm. He suggested to Tom that on the snap for the extra point Tom would find his head in another part of his anatomy. Tom’s snap was the last thing he said he remembered. The ball sailed over the head of the kicker. When Tom came to on the sidelines, he said the trainers were urgently looking for his head, which had apparently been realigned.

But Tom made up for that career limitation with successes in law and real estate. Before he left the law firm he was with to become corporate counsel at Analysts International, he was involved in a number of family-oriented legal cases. He remembered that some professor at the University of Minnesota law school had instructed that if you can demonstrate a physical ailment that may have resulted from the stress of the event, it could be to your advantage. Tom told the story that one day in court as he was interviewing his client, who was suing for a divorce, he noticed a rash on her face. Remembering his professor, and sensing victory, he asked her with considerable drama, the nature of the rash and the cause. Her reply was that it was acne, and that she’d had it since she was a teenager. Tom’s case folded, but he learned that in the future he needed to be a little more thorough in screening his questions.

Tom had an ability to interpret or tweak facts to better serve his priorities. For instance, he did not like the fact that his actual birthday in December was overshadowed by Christmas. So a number of years ago he declared that his new official birthday would henceforth be the same date but in October. In another example, he never wanted the next hunting season to be too far off. So I would get phone calls throughout the year along the lines of, “Do you realize the season’s just about to start?” He would then explain that June is planting time and always flashes by; the next month has the 4th of July celebration and otherwise evaporates, then it’s August and the state fair, September no one pays any attention to anyway, and then it’s October and hunting. Unbelievable how it got here so fast.

I could go on and on with hunting scenes with Tom. From the image of him retrieving a duck in too deep water on the Saskatchewan prairies – with water lapping at the top of his waders holding his shotgun high over his head with both hands, Tom made a perfect retrieve returning with the duck in his mouth. Or the hour-long crawl I once watched him make over the Canadian wheat stubble to surprise some ducks resting along the side of a pothole. At the moment of truth, Tom reared up to fire at the same time that the hunter whose decoys they were stood up and waved pleasantly at him. It was a long walk back to the car for Tom.

All of those are fun memories. But Tom’s real interest and pride was with his family. He spent countless hours in duck blinds reciting the accomplishments of TR, Jay and Betsy. Then he married Barb, embraced her family with Linda and Leslie and added their lives to his reports. He knew that marrying Barb was the best thing that had ever happened to him. And he worshipped her. They had such fun together traveling and enjoying each other. He told me many times that he could not have made it through all of the challenges with his stroke without her loving care, patience and dedication. He was so very grateful to her and to the rest of the family who did so much pitching in.

Like all of you I will miss Tom very much. For me he was the source of more pleasure and laughter than most humans are ever allocated. A wry look, a raised eyebrow, a look of feigned innocence could double me up. What a wonderful life he had until his stroke, and although challenged afterwards, he lived as fully as he could. He kept his humor, dealt with the huge emotional ups and downs and persevered. He was so thankful, as am I, to Barb, his Mom and Dad and family for all they did to take care of him and to bring him the love and attention that sustained him over the past decade.

I will never again meet anyone like Tom. They just don’t make people that generous, smart, loving, and talented. May he rest in peace.

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