Tom hated the phrase “I did my best.” Not because he wasn’t understanding—he was—even when a certain studio assistant accidentally put a stretcher bar through a finished portrait (a story for another time). Tom didn’t like anyone to claim they’d “done their best” because he didn’t like to see a person limit themselves. Doing the best you can means that you are incapable of doing any better, and Tom didn’t believe that was possible—not in a 20-year-old, and certainly not in an 80-year-old.
Tom used his time wisely and wanted others to do the same, not out of some German work ethic but because he, more than most, realized that time is a precious gift. Time shouldn’t be wasted; it should be spent doing the things you love. For Tom, that meant painting. It also meant painting with others, passing on his years of experience all the while looking for new inspirations and fresh perspectives. As often as he came over to offer a critique of whatever picture I was working on, he’d ask me to take a look at what he was doing. Tom always tried to better himself. He loved to talk philosophy and art over cocktails as much as he loved listening to lectures about history, literature, politics, and science while he exercised.
He lived life, and loved what he did and the people he shared it with. I painted alongside Tom for a decade, and learned more from him than he ever knew. Not just about painting, but about life. I moved to this area to be his assistant—one in a long line of Houghton College apprentices—and, thanks in large part to him, built a life of my own here. I’m proud to be part of this tribute, and honored to share space with his final work. Like all great artists, his paintings will live on long after his death, but so will the influence he had on the people who knew him—painters, enthusiasts, students, employees, and friends. I don’t know whether you did your “best”, Tom, but you helped us all get a little closer to it ourselves. Thank you.