Last week I received a sad telephone call, one which was not totally unanticipated but seemed too soon. I received a request to come to Tom Gordon's house to see him one last time. The visit was all about saying good-bye and reaching deep inside for that final thought and soulful remembrance.
It was October 13th of 2009 when I received the initial news from my friend and our fellow blog team member. A diagnosis of cancer had been received two months prior. In typical fashion, radiation had been weathered and months of chemotherapy were on the horizon. Yet Tom remained a practical man. Not a fuss and bother kind of guy he delivered the news with no more fanfare than the local pizza delivery is slapped unceremoniously into one hand with the other hand snaking out for a tip.
Tom and I shared a couple more meals and a few cups of coffee in the months which remained to him. When he couldn't tolerate the coffee, we both moved to drinking tea, and then water. At the beginning of summer I asked Tom if he should vacate work and take a vacation. His response? "I don't think the barge is here to pick me up yet." That made me smile. Tom never was one to indulge his feelings. He was a fairly private person.
He worked until the last day of July and then immediately entered hospice care. I paid my respects and became more a nurse than journalist as I gave my "Bon Voyage" speech. Those setting sail need to be reminded their presence will be missed. They also need to be told they are loved. Less than three days later, Tom Gordon passed away. This Navy gal will miss her surly Marine Corps friend who taught her the true meaning of free speech. The blog members are in agreement that we should pay tribute to a man who graced the masthead with us. There was only one Tom! He kept the rest of us on our toes, and at times, hopping mad! Continue reading!
Tom and I didn't agree on anything except one principle: Freedom of Speech was huge to Tom and he used that principle to the fullest. He could be a very thought-provoking person when he wrote. You knew that he didn't just throw a couple paragraphs together and try to make people mad. He documented his issues and he then challenged you to have a different view with the same type of proof of your opinion. In short, he reminded me of high school/college debate team members in taking a position and provoking what you say. He would cross examine you like a lawyer. In fact, I thought he WAS a lawyer. He could be difficult and abrasive at times. Few times would I call him "charming", but I suppose you could say that to me and make it stick. I never met Tom, at least face to face. Probably was better that way. I know his last days were miserable, but he left behind one strong statement: You may shout, scream, whatever you want. I still have my right to speak. And, I suppose, that might be the one thing that he and I agreed on.
Dr. Jeff Cunningham
I'm not sure I feel safe hanging out in the Swofford patch very often any more. It was the death of another, dare I say shared, friend that Tammy and I met. That was five years ago. Very much the anti-Tom, "Ben" Mike Carter probably better-balanced the social conservative side of Tammy's blogworld from Tom than I ever could. Yet I so often looked forward to having Tom try to shred my stuff. It made me work harder to prepare supporting information. I found myself setting little traps to catch him. He made me a better writer and debate foe.
Don't get me wrong, Tom didn't debate. He just expected everyone else to. It's a little like driving to get your stubborn dad one day to apologize for the first time in your life. It's like pulling teeth, but about the moment it would happen you would feel this huge sense of loss. It's the same with Tom. I knew he would never give ground, even when he knew he was wrong...which was "always". I think if he ever did admit to such a thing I'd have no doubt felt dirty and alone.
I'm not sure I can get myself to read any of "the best of Tom Gordon". First, it's an oxymoron. :) Second, I'd be compelled to respond...and then there's this enormous chasm in my gut that realizes he will never spontaneously...ever...piss me off again.
It's not right... Can't do it. Can't read 'em. Most importantly, we both cared little for the Bush presidency...though for far different reasons.
I'll always pray that somewhere in his final moments he pondered the possibility of a Savior's offer...shared with him so many times by Tammy and others. But then also respecting his dry wit and popcorn fart of an attitude, I know he'd prefer the word "dirtnap" to be used to describe his whereabouts.
Rest in peace, Mr. Gordon...
Being invited to participate in Tammy's blog was an incredible honor. I didn't realize then how intellectually and emotionally involved I would later become. Most people claim they support Freedom of Speech, but here I found a guarded refuge for 1st Amendment rights. I also didn't realize then that I was joining a family. Yes, the Swofford Team has at times been somewhat dysfunctional; but underneath the disagreements and verbal challenges, we have always (well, most times) respected the forum and the opportunity to take part in profound discussions.
As most of the team members come from more Conservative points of view, Tom Gordon's contributions were often head-spinners. It's not that he was seldom right. To the contrary, Tom could get you to reconsider your own interpretations, through solid facts he presented. Tom probably enjoyed seeing the rest of us "spar" with readers who come into the comments section as much as we enjoyed seeing him defend his opinions. At the end of the day, though, I believe there is a true sense of brotherhood (and sisterhood, Tammy) among the Team. I am truly saddened to know that this great thinker's writing will never again grace the page. Rest in peace, Brother. Condolences to your family.
Here are what we consider to be some of the best of Tom Gordon's blog entries. However, the list is far from complete. Regular readers may have your own favorites; please feel welcome to add your memories and sentiments in the comments section. Tom was well-educated on most topics and had solid opinions about each. You can agree or disagree with what he wrote, but one thing remains true:
Tom Gordon was steadfast in his convictions.
Fasten Your Seat Belts (June 2005 - Economy)
Should we Worry about Militant Islam? (Jan. 2006 - Geopolitical Islam)
Bushonomics (Feb. 2006 - Economy)
Your Money, or...Your Money (Sept. 2008 - Bailouts)
A "Coward" Speaks (Feb. 2009 - Racial Issues)
The Road Not Taken (July 2009 - Domestic Policy)
We all know how Tom felt about Reagan, but this is how Reagan felt about Tom:
Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference.
The Marines don't have that problem.
-President Ronald Reagan (in 1985)
If the Army and the Navy ever look on Heaven's scenes,
They will find the Gates are guarded by United States Marines.
-Sgt. Bill M. Brower, USMC
Farewell, Tom Gordon. Fair winds and following seas.