Memories of Tom

Posted 3/17/19

I was sipping hot tea last night and winding down for bed when my phone buzzed. It was a private Facebook message from a friend. She was my parts clerk when I was over the maintenance group with …

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Memories of Tom

Posted

I was sipping hot tea last night and winding down for bed when my phone buzzed. It was a private Facebook message from a friend. She was my parts clerk when I was over the maintenance group with BellSouth. She shared some news that broke my heart. My friend and former coworker Tom had lost his battle with cancer.

Tom was one of eleven guys that worked in that group. They maintained the midrange computers that made the wheels at BellSouth turn. The group was diverse and as close as fingers in a glove. 

The thing about those computers was they rarely broke down during normal business hours. If a machine went down during Thanksgiving dinner, or Christmas Eve, one of these guys would have to go to the data center and repair it. 

When the data center director put me over that group, I’d only been a supervisor for about a year. At first, I worried that the guys would resent someone new and younger trying to tell them how to do their job. 

Some of my peers in management recommended I play hardball, and let the guys know who was boss. I felt like that style would not have turned out well for me. My approach was different. The main focus was to provide them with the tools and training they needed and let them do the work they enjoyed. This suited us all.

Tom always had my back. If I were about to do something stupid that would cause a union grievance, Tom would pull me aside and tell me in private how to proceed. He knew the contract book better than the union representative, and he never steered me wrong.

The phone company had a charity called the Telephone Pioneers. It raised money for those who were less fortunate. In 1992, I was chosen to be the president of the local chapter. The guys in my group were masters at raising money. 

Tom convinced a friend who was a businessman to donate a go-cart to the Pioneers. We then printed raffle tickets and sold them to people in the data center. Close to 5,000 people worked in that building at the time, so our raffle market was wide open.

One morning before work, Tom and I were in front of the building selling tickets. An executive who was full of himself brushed by Tom saying that he didn’t have time to buy a ticket. Tom said as the man walked away, “Those poor sick kids in Children’s Hospital may not have much time either, but they will probably understand that you’re in a hurry and can’t find the time to help.” The man stopped in his tracks.

 “Oh crap! I thought, Tom just got us fired. As the man walked back toward us, he pulled his wallet out and bought $20 worth of tickets. He apologized to Tom for being rude. 

Tom was one of those rare individuals who was not afraid of the hard jobs. He had a moral compass that always seemed to point him in the direction of what was right. 

I saw Tom for the last time a few months ago. He was at the funeral of another friend. He told me he’d decided to forgo further treatment for his cancer. He chose quality over quantity and was at peace with his decision.

This I know for sure – I will miss my friend.


Rick Watson is a columnist and author. His latest book Life Goes On is available on Amazon.com. You can contact him via email at rick@homefolkmedia.com.