Remembering Tom

Early this morning we learned that our friend Tom Troutner had died at his house in Boulder earlier this month. It’s been a long day of shock and sadness for us as we remember a co-worker, a friend, and an extension of our family. I was still groggy with sleep when Amy broke the news to me, having seen his obituary online, and I feel that I’ve remained in that state of semi-conscious confusion as I’ve tried to make sense of this all day.

Tom, Erik Nilsson and me, clowning with our headphones. Get it? Speak no evil, see no evil, hear no evil... We had a hell of a lot of fun!

Tom, Erik Nilsson and me, clowning with our headphones. Get it? Speak no evil, see no evil, hear no evil… We had a hell of a lot of fun!

I met Tom briefly when he started working at Boulder Nordic Sport, and our family was still living in Canada. In the fall of 2009 I got to know Tom a lot better, as we moved to Boulder and Tom and I became co-workers in the service department at BNS. At the time, Tom was a bit of a problem. He was an hourly employee, and he was putting in too many hours – we had to chase him out of the place and send him home. I had the brilliant idea of putting him on Salary and making him a manager – no more hourly overtime concerns! The immediate response was that Tom showed up earlier, stayed later, made sure that the shop was clean, and demonstrated an unflagging work ethic. With Erik Nilsson as part of the team, we created an atmosphere of diligence and excellence that was rewarding for all of us, and was the basis for lasting friendships.

We got iron-on patches. Tom figured that beat sewing the thing onto his forehead.

We got iron-on patches. Tom figured that beat sewing the thing onto his forehead.

When us Caldwells moved back to Vermont and opened up shop here, Tom kept in touch. And after a year of not working together, he agreed to come and work with us in our small operation here. It was seasonal work, and we didn’t pay much, but we gave him the guest room and all the food he could eat – he just had to buy his own beer. I hope Tom’s family won’t take offense when I say that he became part of our family. For two falls we spent all our time together. Tom got yelled at alongside me and Gunnar for not picking up after himself. He had a bottomless reserve of patience for the endless questions and inane conversational topics of an eight, and then nine year old. We leaned on him as we leaned on each-other, and we shared our lives.

In no particular order, I have a few impressions and recollections.

TomTomTomTom was a simple guy. I don’t mean stupid – he was the furthest thing from stupid. I mean uncomplicated. He held a simple and clear morality, and was simply kind. It was as though somebody had told him to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, and he just lived by it. While he had a mischievous sense of humor, he was incapable of malice. There was no affect, pretense or dissembling in an interaction with Tom. If you were hurtful toward him, he was hurt. If you showed him respect, he returned it with interest. And a little bit of kindness came back as humor, generosity, tolerance and endless loyalty. In some ways his uncomplicated personality made him child-like, and that makes this whole thing feel so unfair.

I'm certain my work bench hasn't been this clean since this moment.

I’m certain my work bench hasn’t been this clean since this moment.

Tom was endlessly patient. He had a temper, to be sure, but in the face of unfortunate circumstances or discomfort he was stoic and dogged in his staying power. He was capable of dealing with other people’s messes and mistakes, and lord knows I left him plenty to clean up. There was no task beneath his dignity, and he took pride in his work, whatever that happened to be.

Tom had endless stamina. He was a prolific hiker, and covered incredible distances. But this wasn’t stamina borne of training or exercise. It was stamina built into the very essence of his soul. The man simply wouldn’t break. He wasn’t a big fan of hurrying, but he set a relentless pace and continued until the ends were achieved.

Ready to start the drive to West Yellowstone, with a "few" pairs of skis for customers that we didn't get shipped in time.

Ready to start the drive to West Yellowstone, with a “few” pairs of skis for customers that we didn’t get shipped in time.

Tom had the strongest grip I’ve ever seen. He was a climber, and he was proud of the strength of his hands. At Spring Series in Craftsbury in 2012 Kris Freeman gave me his poles shortly before a race and asked me to put the bigger baskets on. The poles had swappable baskets with a screw-on retainer, but Kris had also used hot-melt glue on the baskets and retaining ring for added security. I handed the poles to Tom and asked him to change them without elaborating. When Tom handed them back to Kris with the bigger baskets installed a couple of minutes later, Kris asked whether the glue had presented any difficulties. Tom hadn’t noticed the glue, but allowed as how they were “a bit stiff”.

I last saw Tom in Sochi, and the 2014 Olympics where we were both working as ski service technicians. He had worked with us through two fall seasons in Vermont, and we were in close touch has he worked as a waxer through the race season. He asked me if we could grab some time to talk, and so we had dinner at my hotel. We both had the same meal I had been eating every night; a rack of lamb and a Guiness. And Tom told me that he wouldn’t be coming back to work with us because of a great opportunity he had to do more hiking, and to be part of a documentary project. He seemed nervous, like he was letting us down, but also so excited about the opportunity and adventures ahead of him. As we talked, and I endorsed his plan, he was clearly animated and joyful and thankful for all that he had done, and all that was to come.

I don’t know what happened. I don’t know how he died. Part of me is demanding to know how this could have occurred – to make sense of it. Part of me is simply sad, feeling as though I’ve lost something irreplaceable. As always, the tendency is to think of this as something that has happened to me. I need to shake off the anger and resentment, and consider his family and the friends who have shared the trail with him. Mostly, I want the world to know that we’ll miss Tom terribly, and we’re so proud to have had him in our lives as a friend, and as a member of our family.

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