Who was Thomas Egan?
Who was Tom? Born in New York, his mother died when he was young and he had no siblings. Tom was a romantic, who always felt that his life would work out if only a few things would fall into place. After he got his master’s degree he struggled to find work. He had a few close relationships with women that didn’t work out. He took up horseback riding in his 30’s and rode at least twice in the Rose Parade in Portland with the Eugene Equestrian Team. He adored black- eyed susans. Tom was a history buff, in particular American history. When I told him that my grandfather had owned a company called, “Folsom Arms” he rattled off more information about the company then I even knew. He also loved firearms, although I never saw him with a gun nor was he a hunter. The Oregon National Guard gave his life stability and direction and he loved being a member of it, although he often railed about the incompetence of bureaucracies.
Tom was also quite a prankster and loved a good joke. Without telling me, he once signed me up with recruiters for a semi-truck driving school. I was deluged with calls for weeks from the school asking me when I’d like to begin and sending me class schedules. He loved classical music, in particular harpsichord music, and hated country and western. He is possibly the only man I know who could happily listen to Joni Mitchell all day.
Cooking was not a strong point with Tom. The only food I ever saw him buy or cook was Spam. I once asked Tom to grab a zucchini for me while we were in the grocery store and he had to read the signs to figure out which vegetable it was. But he did love to eat, and we often ate Asian restaurants when I was in Eugene.
Although a very generous friend, he did not know how to accept help. Once when he was in the service and coming home from Korea for a visit he walked close to 15 miles during the winter in the night and with his duffel bag, rather then make a call to a houseful of people who would have happily gone and gotten him. He loved good tools, and I still own a sheetrock square and a set of metric tools he bought for me. There were times when Tom made enough money to have bought himself good stereos, cars, clothes but he never wanted many material possessions and lived a simple life.
While in the army in Korea he saved a small black and white dog from being thrown into the cooking pot. He spent thousands of dollars but managed to get his beloved “Ralph” back to the country with him, where he lived the rest of his life with Tom.
For a person who loved history as much as he did, Tom was completely apolitical. The only time he voted was when I bribed him with the promise of writing him a letter a week for a year if he’d vote, and he could vote for whoever he wanted. His attitude was, “live and let live” and I never was able to engage him in any sort of political discussion. It might have been borne of a deep cynicism over the haplessness of all bureaucracies, but it bled into other areas of his life.
Tom was an avid reader, and collected history books. His great grandfather had written a book about the early history of Connecticut which Tom wanted to rewrite in modern English. He was proud of his Irish heritage, always claiming it was where he got his temper (which I rarely saw) and his stubbornness, which I often saw. He would have gladly spent his life being educated, but had to drop out of a PhD program due to lack of money.
To the best of my knowledge, Tom was not getting any form of social security but was living on just over $600 a month he was receiving from the sale of his childhood home. That check came monthly and paid for rent, food, and beer and not much else. After he became homeless, he was trying to save up enough money for a deposit to rent an apartment, although he did have the opportunity to move into some sort of veterans’ housing. He chose not to do that, possibly because it would have involved rules and sobriety.
Tom was looking forward to few things, but one thing he looked forward to was turning 60 and getting his army pension. I saw him several months before his 60th birthday and he told me that the form he needed to fill out required him to provide just about every pay stub he’d ever gotten, but he assured me it was all in his trunk. I offered to help him with the paperwork, but he didn’t answer, and he claimed he didn’t have the form with him. Having given up on trying to get him to get his cataracts fixed, helping to get Tom to fill out his army pension papers was the next thing on my to-do list the next time I saw him.
Tom made choices, choices many of us will never understand.
Nobody knew the whole man, but only the sides he choose to show us. The last man he showed us was a frozen and dead homeless man with half a bottle of vodka at his side, and he deserved to be seen as more than that. Much more.