E-mail came in at 2:11 this afternoon to say that Tom had died this morning. The finest teacher I ever had, the fabled high school mentor who made all the difference. He was... for a while there he was everything in my life. Taught me how to write, how to think. Books, books, books.
He was walking around the track at the school and had a heart attack. It's fitting, I suppose, that he died there. He graduated from the school himself and came back after college to teach literature and media (which essentially boiled down to all Beatles, all the time). This would have been his 34th year there, if memory serves. He commanded respect and not a little fear, but allowed students to call him by his first name. My early papers were handed back with so much red ink on them they looked like they'd been used to mop up a car wreck. My later papers were college level writing and clean.
We kept in touch over the years, primarily through Christmas cards. My consolation is that I did make sure to tell him exactly how much he meant to me and how important his touch on my life has been. Hardly a day goes by that I don't think of him or some lesson he taught me. He's in my head always.
Godspeed, Tom, and God help St. Peter if he stammers and says "um..." at the pearly gates, or tries to pass off an uninformed bias as a well-supported argument.