The Loss of a Hero

On June 5 at 4am, my 96-year-old father-in-law died of natural causes.

What to tell you about Tom? He was eccentric, funny, opinionated (but that was okay because we usually agreed), outspoken and intelligent. He didn’t suffer fools gladly. Because he grew up in a small Idaho mountain town during the Great Depression, he was thrifty. By thrifty I mean: he saved rubber bands on the drawer pulls in his kitchen, he repaired his old puffer jacket with electric tape and Super Glue, and you could see air through his socks which fell off on their own when he took off his shoes. I said I was buying him new socks for Christmas, and he said, “Hell, I’ve got packages of new socks in the bedroom, but there’s nothing wrong with these!”

He never hired anything done he could do himself, and he could do almost everything. He taught his sons to be the same. When the characters in STRANGERS SHE KNOWS rebuilt a 1955 Ford F100 pickup with a straight 6-cylinder engine, I knew who to call. Because Tom owned a 1955 Ford F100 pickup with a straight 6-cylinder engine and he (and The Husband) did all the work on it. (Article)

At seventeen Tom graduated from high school and rode a bus (remember, this was a kid from small town Idaho) to Los Angeles where he attended electronics school. With the outbreak of World War II, he joined the Navy to fight fascism and nazis. When the war ended, he returned home, married and had three children: a girl, a boy, and perfection (The Husband was the youngest.  ) Tom worked in logging and sawmills, and he was determined his kids not do that kind of dangerous, backbreaking work. He demanded his children learn more, do more, and of course, he got his way. He always was a force to be reckoned with.

After his retirement and my mother-in-law’s death, The Husband and I would send our daughters for summer visits. The stories are funny; how he drove two kids from flat Houston up the Kleinschmidt Grade out of Hell’s Canyon, a narrow gravel road of hairpin turns that climbs 2200 feet in five miles. Our daughters still talk in awe and horror about meeting other cars. Tom took them to swim in the local lake; the girls were used to warm water, and the way he told the story is that they jumped in, hit the icy water and walked on their fingertips back to shore. He may have laughed at them. He made candy with them, he took them bowling and golfing…

About the golfing. After his retirement, five days a week he got up early to golf. Winter and summer. When he was 87, he got his first (and only) hole-in-one. Typically there was only him and his golf partner as witnesses, because it was the middle of winter and no one else was nuts enough to be out there. As he told me once, “I don’t like to golf when it’s less than seventeen degrees. I get cold.” I’m not sure what I said, but I doubt I complimented him on his good sense.

At ninety, he retired from golf. To keep himself in shape, he worked out three days a week at the gym. No one wanted to exercise when he was there. How hard is it to whine about a difficult workout when some 95 year old is lifting weights?

He read all the time, mostly thrillers, and he got them from the local library. The librarians loved him, and yes, I used his stories in my books.

He was a tough guy who never backed down from a fight and never took shit off anybody…except females. He was the kind of man who liked and respected women. After my mom died, everyone shied away from talking about her. It was as if she’d never existed. About a year later, Tom asked me, “Do you miss your mother?” I got to talk about her and my grief, so yeah, he had a well-concealed sensitive side. He’s one of the best men I’ve ever met, and his passing has left a hole in the world.

Thank you to my brother-in-law and sister-in-law for caring for him in his last days. Thank you to the hospice workers and the medical professionals who made him comfortable.

God speed, Tom Ham.

If you’d like to know how Tom helped as I wrote STRANGERS SHE KNOWS, read Masherbumbles, Fiskpopers, and Listening.

Tom was honored as a WWII Veteran: Read A Dedication Thank You.

Downloadable/Printable booklist sorted by genre, series and in order.

Books by Series includes covers and links to excerpts.