Tom Long wouldn’t have wanted this story.
Even though everyone quoted in it says nice things about him.
Maybe especially because everyone says nice things about him.
“He would be mortified,” says Mary Hilsabeck-Huber, her voice easing into a folksy drawl as she imitates someone born 73 years ago in a log cabin that lacked electricity near the Wright County hamlets of Jerktail and St. George. “Tom probably would say, ‘Well, now, I don’t see any reason they would want to pick a feller like me to write about in the newspaper. There’s not enough words to say about me to fill an article…’”
Yes there are, insist friends and family of Thomas Dwight Long, who died in late January:
Friendly. Modest. Quiet. Steady. Helpful. Gentle. Kind. Smart. Funny. Generous. Dependable. Faithful…
“Tom was never a showy or flashy guy, never one to be in the limelight,” says Hilsabeck-Huber, who knew him through their church membership at Unity of Springfield. “He was one of those quiet people who stay in the background — but he had a great impact. He’d come in early and set up the rooms, set up the chairs and tables or whatever was needed for whatever was happening. But almost no one would have any idea that it was Tom who had done all those things.”
Sue Baggett-Day agrees. She’s pastor at Unity, 2214 E. Seminole St., where Tom was a member since 2005. “Tom was a ‘good ol’ boy’ — laid back, quiet and unassuming. He found us by listening to us on the radio, and he decided to check us out. From the get-go, he was a helper. He would come in during the week and set up our fellowship hall for whatever class was taking place.”
Tom did play one up-front role at the church. “He would greet people at the front door on Sundays,” says Baggett-Day. “Everyone loved Tom! He always had a hug and a smile. He had a special nickname for everyone. He always greeted me as ‘Sweetheart.’”
Another member of the congregation, Billy Joe House-Henry, describes Tom as “the best greeter” who possessed “a great sense of humor. He would make your heart smile as you entered the church. I knew him only on Sundays, but he made me feel like I knew him forever.”
Brandy Martin, who runs the church office, recounts a rare Sunday when Tom was absent: “A lot of people can miss one week and nobody notices. But that Sunday everyone was ‘Where’s Tom? Where’s Tom? Where’s Tom?’ And then a couple of days later he called me — while he was on his way to the hospital to undergo a test — and told me to be sure that the church was unlocked for a group that was scheduled to meet that day. He was always such a helper!”
In addition to his participation at church, Tom was a familiar figure at Red Cross facilities in Springfield. When not donating blood — a prodigious 56 gallons over the years — or platelets, he volunteered at the blood bank, dispensing snacks and encouragement to other donors.
And until cancer forced him to park his bicycle a few years ago, Tom enjoyed pedaling on rural roads in Greene and Webster counties.
A 1966 graduate of Hartville High School, he attended Draughon Business College in Springfield until drafted into the Army in 1968. He served with a military police unit in Vietnam.
Returning to Springfield, he hired on with Stoddard Equipment Co. in the early 1970s and spent 40 years with the firm as a parts manager and purchasing agent.
To niece Amy York — his nickname for her was “kid” — Tom was “quite the uncle. He was my biggest cheerleader at every event when I was in school. And he was the same way with my son, John — he attended every sporting event, every piano recital, every play.”
Amy’s husband Andrew notes that Tom also was a regular attendee to his parents, Avis and Nelma Long, while they lived out their lives on the family farm in Wright County. “Tom would go every weekend to visit his folks. They didn’t get good TV reception down there, so he would record TV shows and take them on VHS tapes so his parents would have something to watch.”
Until he had to abandon his own house in Springfield to move into a nursing home as the cancer relentlessly advanced, Tom enjoyed tinkering with classic cars. He babied a 1930s Ford for many years. His prized 1970 Chevrolet Malibu convertible, white with a red interior, is earmarked to go to Amy.
A lifelong bachelor, Tom also treasured books. “He was a voracious reader,” recalls longtime friend Norma Vincent. “Anything from politics to Zane Grey westerns to detective stories and thrillers.”
Like others, Vincent was charmed by Tom’s “down home” persona. “He had the demeanor of an old country guy,” she says, “but yet he also had great business sense. He would stay pretty quiet until he had something to say. And when he did, what he said would bring everyone right back to the situation at hand.”
Hilsabeck-Huber appreciated that quality when she was president of the church board and Tom was a board member. “He never said a whole lot. But it was like those old E.F. Hutton commercials — when he did talk, everyone listened. He’d cock his head a little and go, ‘Well, the way I see it…” and then he’d say something incredibly profound. Nine times out of 10, most of the people around the table would say, ‘Gosh, I never thought about it like that.’ He could change a lot of minds.”
Hearing that doesn’t surprise niece Amy. “When he spoke, you listened — because it was something you needed to hear.”
Friend Rod Ingerson appreciated Tom’s wisdom as well. “He wasn’t a talker; he was a good listener. In other words, he was a good conversationalist. He would quietly take in what others had to say, and then out would come a pearl, a gem, often with a touch of his wry sense of ‘country boy’ humor.
“Tom must’ve had bad days like everybody else, but I never saw him carry that around like some people do. He was the kind of person that when you met him, you instantly liked him and wanted to get to know him better. He had what is sometimes called charisma.
“I never got tired of being around Tom,” Ingerson adds. “I learned a lot from him. He made a difference in my life.”
Clay Holmes feels the same way. “Tom had the unusual and beautiful quality of being able to set one at ease. He was the first person I met at Unity because he was the greeter at the church’s front entrance. As soon as I shook his hand, I felt his genuine warmth.
“If I am having a rough day and I want to turn things around to the better, all I need to do is conjure up Tom’s kind visage and remind myself of his quiet grace. The way he lived his life is something that I honestly want to emulate.”
Tom came full-circle — he is buried about 300 yards from the site of the primitive log cabin where he was born.