This is not the story I planned on writing. However, life is full of the unexpected. Our family just experienced one of worst of those. We lost my 79-year old brother. You may well ask, what is so unusual for a man of this age to die? However, my brother Tom was not your typical 79-year old man. Tom still hiked rugged mountain trails and swung a mean golf club. He had the health, stamina, energy and appearance of a far younger man. His death was an accident—one hard to comprehend.
We are told that most accidents happen in our own homes; especially in the bathroom. Our family can now understand this. After arriving home from his morning three-mile walk, Tom was in the bathroom. Somehow, he slipped and fell, striking the side of his forehead on the corner of the countertop. It appears he died instantly. He was alone in the house. His wife came home a short time later to find him there on the bathroom floor. Nothing could revive him. It was Friday, May 31, 2013, just two weeks after his birthday, and my little brother was gone from us forever.
Born May 18, 1934 in Seattle, my brother was given the name of Thomas Edward. When my parents brought him home to our house on old Manor Way just north of what today is 164th Street Southwest in Lynnwood, we called him Tommy.
I was 7 years old and had been the little sister to two older brothers—now I was big sister to the cutest little baby boy you can imagine. I rocked him in our rocking chair, wheeled him around in my doll buggy, read his first stories to him, and I told him all about what I had learned in school that day. In the summertime, when he was little more than a toddler, I took him to the lake with me just so he could play in the water. He went with me to Sunday school, and when he was 5 years old, I was with him when he was baptized at the little church in Esperance.
Through the years, I remained the big sister in years, but eventually my little brother towered over me. Certainly, I never thought that he would be the one to leave before me—never that I would be writing in the past tense about such a vital younger brother.
Tom attended Esperance Grade School and graduated from Edmonds High School in 1952. In high school he was an outstanding scholar, as well as an athlete. Baseball was certainly a favorite, but he was active in football, basketball and boxing as well. As a senior in high school, Tom was Edmonds’ selection for the All-State baseball team. The local newspaper described Tom as experienced and reliable at second base, not flamboyant in hitting home runs, but when the batting averages were tallied at the end of the season, he was at the top of the list with a record-setting .448 average. The writer also had more to say, words that are now haunting. He mentioned that Tom’s sensational average seemed remarkable, considering that Tom was out for a week due to a blow to his head from a thrown ball. Our younger brother Don was watching the game when it happened and thought his brother had been killed. Who would have suspected that 61 years later it would be another head injury that would take the life of our brother?
Tom was an honor student, a letterman, and president of the student body during his senior year. On top of everything else, he had a good singing voice. With all his activities, Tom found time to be active in the Edmonds Boy Scout Troup. He became an Eagle Scout.
As a young boy, Tom was a familiar sight at the Edmonds ferry dock. With his ever- present big smile, he became successful at selling Seattle newspapers to those waiting in line to board the ferry. He saved his money to help pay for his college education.
Tom enrolled at Whitman College in Walla Walla, majoring in education. Since his high school days, Tom had grown taller by several inches, and his athletic abilities grew along with the added inches. A sports team wanted to draft him, but Tom had other ideas as to what he wanted to do with his life. Tom waited tables in the dining hall and did whatever he could to help with college expenses. He graduated from Whitman with the class of 1957.
Through the years, while at home in Edmonds, Tom continued to play baseball and basketball with various local teams in the Edmonds and Lynnwood areas.
After college Tom set his sights on the Navy and was admitted to Officer’s Candidate School. He spent two years at our military’s Monterey, Calif. Foreign Language Center and become proficient in the Russian language. Tom served as a LTJG aboard the Navy’s Oiler Ship USS CACAPON. He married Nancy, a girl from Edmonds, and they had two children.
Out of the Navy and back home, the family lived in Meadowdale and Brier and Tom taught school. By 1972, his marriage was failing and Tom went back to school; this time to graduate school at Western Washington University in Bellingham. There he met Michelle who would become his partner for the remainder of his life. They were married 38 years ago on a mountain (where else) in Washington state. Tom and Michelle were both teachers—Tom in the Everett School District for 25 years, where he taught fourth and fifth grades and elementary school physical education. They lived in various places, including Lynnwood.
For 18 years Tom was a member of the Edmonds Sons of Norway and had an interest in the sports and scholarship programs. He was often on hand to flip pancakes at the scholarship fundraiser breakfasts.
Both Tom and Michelle loved hiking in the mountains, and in 2003 they liked what southwest Utah offered. At first they only lived part of the year in Utah. However, in 2009 they moved permanently to the home they had purchased in the southwestern part of the state.
If he wasn’t golfing, Tom could be found hiking along the rough mountain trails near his home, usually with his little dog beside him. Three years ago he climbed 10,000-foot Pine Valley Mountain. Last April, he and Michelle hiked the trails in the Cottonwood Wash Wilderness area at the base of the mountain. This is where Tom’s ashes will be scattered—in view of the home he and Michelle shared.
Besides having classical good looks, my brother was one of the really good guys. He was the type of man parents would want their daughter to bring home.
Tom was a quiet boy and a quiet man. Unlike his older sister, Tom was a man of few words, but you never overlooked or forgot him. His wife Michelle, his two children, and his four grandchildren knew that he loved them.
Reading the Guest Book accompanying Tom’s obituary in the Everett Herald, I couldn’t help but smile at the comments by a lady who had been a student in my brother’s fourth-grade classroom at Jefferson School in the mid-1960s. She said: “He was my favorite teacher in elementary school. Look at him, all the girls had a crush on the teacher.”
Finally, these are the last words from the big sister to her little brother. Tommy, you did good; you even climbed that last mountain, now rest in peace.
— Submitted by Betty Lou (Deebach) Gaeng for Lynnwood Today
About the author: An 80-year resident of Lynnwood, Betty Lou Gaeng is a genealogist, historian, researcher and writer who is active in volunteer work for Lynnwood’s Heritage Park Partners Advisory Committee and the Alderwood Manor Heritage Association at Heritage Park.