Sunday, June 30, 2013

In Memory of John-Paul Thomas 9/5/1946 - 6/10/2013

In Memory of John-Paul Thomas    9/5/1946 – 6/10/2013

JT in 2005, San Juan Islands, WA, on whale-watching trip

We met each other on the internet.  I was asking a question about stock wash sales on one of The Motley Fool’s message boards.  This was back in September of 1999.   JT (then, and for most people, he was called “JP” – later, I would call him JT) answered my question and I replied:

Gosh JP, thanks for the observation.
One programmer to another:
if (AngelMays_tax_situation < totally_clear && AngelMay == seeking_advice)
JPs_advice = not_much_help;

To that, HE replied:

hmmmm. i think it was more 'observation', than 'advice'....
either way, you're free to find it useless.

Who could have known then that we would become the best of friends? Not just on the Internet but also in person.   I’m sure we did not.  But we had so much in common.  We were like two peas in a pod.  It was inevitable.

Both of us were born in September in even-numbered years (though I was several years older).  We were both left-handed.  Both introverts.  Both of us political liberals.  Both drove BMWs.  We both had a special affinity for animals that not everyone seems to have.  We both made our living as computer programmers – though he had a law degree (among other degrees).  Both sets of our parents were married in Tampa, Florida – at different times and did not know each other.  Neither of us liked big cities.  We didn’t like scallops.  We both loved nature and adored animals.  What are the odds, right?

What a strange chance that we two, so much alike yet so far apart geographically, would come to know each other.  I lived in Alabama and he in California.  And what were the odds we would have become the very best of friends?

In Alabama September, 2000

He came to Alabama first.  He had just picked up his new BMW at the South Carolina BMW plant and was going to be driving it back across the country to California.

We met in person for the first time at the Jack Daniels distillery in Tennessee, toured the facility, and then drove back to our house – which he promptly named “Tara” – not far over the state line into Alabama.  After that, I flew to California three times from Alabama to visit him.  Then we moved from Alabama to Washington State and JT came up there for a visit.  It was on this visit that I took the wonderful photo of him that you see at the very top of this blog post.  I had arranged a whale-watching tour up to the San Juan Islands with lunch in Friday Harbor.  It was a wonderful day.
His mother, a lovely and wise woman, had warned him not to come to someone’s house that he met on the Internet before he came for that first meeting.  She was afraid we would knock him out (or worse) and take his new car. But rather than kill him, we fed him.  We took him out to Miss Mary Bobo’s boarding house restaurant in Lynchberg, Tennessee for lunch – where he proceeded to pilfer beef from my plate.  We took him to a Japanese restaurant .  Initially, he had said there was no way a Japanese restaurant in Alabama (of all places) could be any good.  After eating there, he declared it one of the best he’d ever experienced.

 Well-fed and safe at "Tara", Alabama, September 2000

I met his mother on my trips out to visit him.   I loved her instantly.  She was just a lovely woman – with an absolutely wonderful rose garden behind her immaculate home.  She died of cancer not long after one of my trips out here.  But I still remember her and think of her fondly.

JT's mom in 2002 -- JT in Alabama jacket I gave him

It was on my first trip to visit him that he gave me my second bear (the first was a BMW bear he gave me when he came to “Tara”).  He put me in the spare bedroom where he had provided a blow-up mattress which was, surprisingly, quite comfortable.  The only problem was that I was unused to the chilly California nights and I nearly froze to death that first night.  I told him about it the next morning and off we went to the mall to buy blankets for me.  While there I spied the cutest little stuffed bear and mentioned how adorable he was.  JT bought it for me.  Of course I still have it – along with the other small, stuffed animals he gave me over the years.

The “bears” came about because at the time we met he claimed to have an invisible friend named “Bear” whom he had met at the Four Corners a long time ago.  Bear was about 900 years old and was his constant companion for years when I first knew him.  He would often sign his name “bear” on cards and on his posts at The Motley Fool and for a long time the people there called him “Bear”.

On one trip out to see him, he was going to take me up a mountain to an observatory.  On the way up the mountain on a little two lane narrow road with absolutely no safety rails on the side (what was California thinking?) and hundreds of feet drop on the passenger side, I began to panic.  I drew in sharp breaths and kept leaning away from my side of the car nearly into the driver’s seat on top of him.  I involuntarily let out a scream or two and he informed me at one point that I had so frightened Bear that he leapt into the back seat and covered his eyes with his paws.  I suggested that we find a place to turn around, forget about the observatory, and get back down the mountain posthaste.  And that is what we did.

Somewhere along the line – years later – and after a lot of health issues, he announced that Bear was no longer around.  He had gone, he said.  I was a little sad about this because I knew his health was continuing to deteriorate and he just wasn’t his same old self.

On one trip out to visit JT – the second one, I think – he was building a squirrel house.  But he was not fond of heights and was loathe to climb up the ladder to place it onto the tree.  So I volunteered.  We attached a rope to the squirrel house and I climbed the ladder with the end of the rope.  I tossed it over a limb and let it fall back down to him and he hoisted the heavy house up to where I was so I could nail it in place.  Unfortunately, as I was maneuvering the house, I lost hold of it and it went crashing down.  I yelled and he just barely made it out of the way.   Lucky for me, I still had my friend and the house was eventually nailed safely in place.  Before I even arrived back home he sent email telling me that squirrels had already moved into it.   Here’s a photo that HE took that day and staged to make it appear I had dropped the house smack on him and his…er….ruby slippers:

The squirrel house was eventually nailed into place, however, and he took this photo to prove it:

On another trip I slept on the same blow-up mattress as before but this time it sprang a leak and I found myself sleeping on the hard floor.  The next day he blew the mattress back up and glued the air hole on it shut.  I have no idea what ever became of that mattress after that.  Fun memory.  Silly.  Wonderful.

Then there was the time we went out to eat at an Italian restaurant.   I ordered spaghetti and he ordered calamari.  His calamari turned out to be little baby squid with little legs still on them.  Ewww.  I later wrote a haiku about this:

My dear friend and I

Dine – he, on calamari.
I try not to look.

JT and I spoke to each other almost every single day of our lives on the phone.  He had a voice like velvet and velvety brown eyes to match.  He liked to pretend he was a curmudgeon, but he wasn’t.   Though if you rubbed him wrong he could hold a grudge forever.  Or maybe he was just consistent.

We talked about everything.  We talked about the TV shows we watched and who we liked and who we hoped would get knocked off the show.  We talked about politics and cabbages and kings.  Once I listened while he patiently proved to me step-by-step that there were just as many even numbers as there were numbers.  I can’t remember the proof now, but I “got it” at the time.

We understood each other’s jokes and aggravations.  If I was upset about something he knew just the thing to say to put me back on track.

He both recognized and respected my intelligence, and I, of course, thought he was one of the smartest people I had ever known.  He was also one of the gentlest and kindest people I’ve ever known.  The hardest thing for me now is suppressing that desire to reach for the phone to “talk to JT.”

When he was out and about (yet always close to home) he took the time to stop and actually converse with street beggars and he always gave them a five if he had it on him.  Before his favorite coffee stand closed due to the economy, he was such a well-known customer there that by the time his car pulled to the window the baristas already had his coffee ready and waiting for him.  He was sad when they closed and he had to find another source for his morning coffee.

He fed the birds and the squirrels – spent lots of money on huge bags of peanuts for them – and he more often than not named his furry and feathered friends.  One jay named “Larry” and his mate “Mo” recognized JT’s dark blue BMW before it could even get parked in the parking lot where he worked back before he was laid off.  The economy again.  They would fly down and take peanuts from his hands.

He always carried peanuts in his car and in his pockets in case he encountered a crow or a jay – two of the smartest birds on the planet – or a squirrel.

One day a cat came to live with him.  She just moved in.  And that was that.   At first he resisted.  He felt a cat didn’t need a “sick old guy” so he got a collar for her and put a note on it to whoever might be her owner telling them to please keep their cat at home and indoors.  

But she came back.  And came back.  And the note had never been unfurled and read.  She did need the sick old guy and, though he didn’t realize it yet, he needed her as much as she needed him.  So he bought a cat carrier and took her to the vet and had her spayed (after finally learning she was a she and not a he) and micro-chipped.  Many, many dollars later he declared, “She’s MY cat now.”


And that was her lucky day because she had been homeless and probably mistreated before she found him.  And she was good for him, too, because he was never in the best of health the entire time I knew him and she made his life better – much better – there was never any doubt about that.   She had the best food, the best toys, the best of everything.  She had her nails clipped at the vet because he couldn’t handle her well enough to do it himself.  If she accidentally got outside, he would worry himself sick until he got her back. I can still hear his voice on the phone saying, “There’s my girl!” when she had, presumably, just come into the room where he was. He absolutely adored and doted on her. 

Now she has lost him, too.  As I write this she is still in the house and is being cared for by a person who comes in to feed her and clean the litter pan and plays with her for a few minutes.  But he won’t be coming home to her now.  And she needs a new home.  I hope she will find one where she will be cared for as well as he cared for her.


A recent special memory was when he came up to visit us here in Santa Rosa after we had moved to California.  We were going to watch the College Football Championship game together.  He got the biggest kick out of me cheering for Alabama as they trounced Notre Dame to win the championship.  We took him out to Cattlemen’s restaurant for steak that day, too.  He thoroughly enjoyed that.  That’s the last time he felt well enough to come up.

He had had many spells of bad health.  Many trips to the hospital.  This last trip was due to a tiny spot of esophageal cancer – discovered extremely early so we all thought he was very lucky.  The surgery itself had gone well.  But his other problems – heart, kidney, diabetes – made the recovery very hard.  It was difficult for him to speak and his smart phone keyboard was too small for him to manage under his medicated condition so his messages to me were garbled – sometimes beyond recognition.  Other times I could make out what he was trying to say.

I had spent the morning of 10 June 2013 in the kitchen baking bread.  Once the bread was finished I was tired and told my husband that I didn’t want to mess with lunch and so we went down to the Chinese restaurant on the corner at the next main intersection from our house.  We had just been served cups of tea (the day was unusually chilly here) and our soup when the phone rang.  It was JT’s sister.  I thought she was just calling to say she had seen him and he looked good.  I had posted at the Motley Fool about baking bread being not cooking but an art.  I said “There’s just something magic about bread.”  And he had answered on his cell phone from his hospital bed:

 why it's called Breakfast of Champian!z

This would be his last post at The Motley Fool.  It would be the last communication I would ever have from him.  I answered the phone and his sister said she had some bad news.  I leaped from the booth where we were sitting and started for the door.  I heard the words “collapsed” – “could not revive” – “passed” – “autopsy” – and I lost it right there on the shopping center sidewalk.  My husband, bless him, was  quickly there beside me but I was like a wild woman so great was the pain.  So hard was the news.  I had answered his last post at the Motley Fool saying:

Sounds like you are feeling little bit better. :)

He had told me how scared he was before going in for the surgery and when we visited him for the first time after the surgery he confided to me how happy he was when he woke up to find he was still here. 

I really thought he was feeling better.  Then, while I was baking bread, he was in dialysis.  When they brought him back to his room….

His sister has since called and told me the autopsy revealed that he died of a massive heart attack.  There was blockage in the left anterior descending artery.  Completely blocked.

Introverts don’t have tons of friends.  They are hard to come by – especially for someone as old as I am now.   JT was the only friend I had who called me and to whom I spoke on the phone nearly every day of my life since we met each other. 

My phone now is silent.  My special email folder just for him no longer receives any email.  I cannot bring myself to remove his name from my phone or my email.  I will probably never remove them.

My heart is literally shattered into bits.  My feet are lead blocks – so heavy are they to lift and push forward for each step.  My thoughts won’t keep still.  I see him in my mind.   I hear his voice.  I feel his hand in mine.  I feel that arm-around snug hug he always gave me.  The last time I ever saw him was on Saturday, 8 June 2013.  We held hands and I sat on the side of his bed and stroked his forehead.  I was so hopeful that he would recover from the surgery and be home soon.

I think, in moments, that I may die, too.  But I have a wonderful husband who was willing – even suggested – that he would go down and stay with JT to help him when he got out of the hospital just to be sure he was ok for the first couple of weeks – because, he said, JT was family.  And I have a kitty of my own who was named, as it happens, by JT.  These people love me even when I’ve lost my dearest friend.   And they have watched me cry rivers of tears over the past days.  And they’ve been there for me:  my husband, Lawrence, ever patient – and Sylvie, concerned that “mommie” is acting unhappy, curling up beside me either in bed or on the sofa.  Comfort I badly needed.

This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  This is the hardest loss I’ve ever experienced.  Losing my daddy nearly killed me because he died relatively young.  But you expect to lose your parents at some point in your life.  You don’t expect to lose the best friend you’ve ever had. 

I’d give anything I have to have him back again – for him to have his life back again.  But I have to keep pushing those lead feet ahead of me.  I have to keep getting up and going through the motions.  I have to keep breathing.  

He used to tell me, “Take what you get and leave the rest.”  In this case, it’s very hard to do.  But if there is one thing to be even slightly cheerful about through all of this, it’s that he did not have to end his days in the chaos and torment of a nursing home.  I can’t think of many things worse for an introvert to have to endure.  I’m just so glad that he remained independent – the way he liked it – to the end.

He also used to tell me, “Everything dies.”  But that’s the one I never liked hearing.

I’m so very lucky that I knew JT and had him in my life for so many years.
I learned so much from this wonderful, funny, brilliantly intelligent, gentle, perfectly lovely man.  Now I hope I can put it all into practice.  One thing is certain:  He will always be a part of me no matter where I am or what I do.

You were the best, John-Paul Thomas.  You were the very best.  And I loved you dearly.

 JT in his own backyard in 2003

JT in Muir Woods

JT with the painting I gave him

  JT in his backyard

At Ano Nuevo Park

 With, as always, his coffee

With my beloved old cat, Cookie - at "Tara" in September, 2000

With my husband, Lawrence, in Port Townsend, WA, in 2005

In 2001.  I always loved this photo because it was taken when he was in better health.

I'm going to try to add here a couple of "movies" I took with my camera.  The best is sideways - my fault so please overlook.  But these are the only recordings I have of his voice and they are like gold to me.



Note:  The rose I use here at the top of my blog is from the bushes I gave him back in 2003.  They were the Habitat for Humanity rose of 2003.  But he always called them "Rita Rose" because Rita is my name.  Three of the bushes are still in his front yard.  One did not survive.

 They were, I thought, the most beautiful roses I had ever seen.

Posted here by AngelMay on 17 June 2013

In Memory of John-Paul Thomas, my best and dearest friend.


Update:  Riki has found a new home and she appears to be very happy there.  I am so glad of this and I know that JT would be as well.  I can finally put this worry to rest now.

Riki in her new home

Update:  On 30 June 2013 my friend was placed to rest in the waters of the San Francisco Bay beside the Golden Gate Bridge.  I think I shall never again view this bridge in the same light as before.

And the world will never be the same again for me.



UtahGamer said...

Thank you for sharing this, AM. Through your loving eyes, he is revealed in a way I never could know and I'm grateful for the chance to know JT a bit better. Hugs and love, Paul

Monday's Child said...

A beautiful and loving tribute, AM. I'm so sorry you had to lose such a wonderful friend.
Many hugs,

Anonymous said...

:*( I shed a tear with you, AM.


Mike said...

It hurts to lose someone. My deepest condolences.

Anonymous said...

What a lovely tribute. JT looks and sounds just like I thought he would. Glad you had such a wonderful friend.


Brian Miller said...

hugs. i am sorry for the loss of your friend....he sounds like a wonderful person...

Gloria Baker said...

OMY dear, this is a really lovely post and tribute, and he was a really lovely man I would like knew him, huggs

Sandra Leigh said...

Thank you, AM. Your memorial is beautiful. I hope that having -- and sharing -- these memories of JT helps to ease your pain.

Janice said...

Such sad news...what a beautiful friendship. You were so lucky to have found each other and to have had such good times together. I am so sorry for your loss and grieve with you.

The Silver Fox said...

Wow, what a loss indeed. I'm so sorry. I know how close one can get to internet friends, and that closeness increases, of course, when you actually meet them. There were many great photos there; loved the two of Riki and the one with the squirrel house atop the shoes. Great memorial.