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Tom McGrath: The Gift of Friendship

Anthony J. Mussari, Ph.D.
March 24, 2011

A true friend…advises justly, assists readily, adventures boldly, takes all patiently, defends courageously, and continues a friend unchangeably.William Penn

On April 15, 2010, I wrote a Face of America Commentary about a lifetime friend, Tom McGrath. Since then, Tom’s life has been a medical nightmare. He has been in and out of the emergency room, in and out of the hospital, in and out of the operating room, in and out of physical therapy. Only his indomitable will to live kept him alive

On March 21, Tom McGrath said good bye to his family, and he went home to meet his God.

Tom’s passing caused me to think about life, death and everything in between. It prompted me to write about the most endearing characteristic of this man I have known and admired for more than fifty years.

One of the greatest gifts of my life was my friendship with Tom McGrath. It began when I was a teenager living on East South Street in Wilkes-Barre, PA. One fine day a handsome couple moved into an apartment next to our home.

Mrs. McGrath, as we knew her then, was a beautiful woman. Mr. McGrath was a friendly man. In my adolescent mind, he had special privileges because he was always nice to my dad, and he was a Yankee fan.

During those years, we lived in a neighborhood where people knew and cared about one another. Mr. Frank Gering delivered Stegmaier beer by day, and he baked wonderful pies and cakes at night. His face glowed when he knocked on the door with a fresh baked pie in hand and said, "Hi Bub, I have a surprise for you and your parents."

Mr. Joseph George, Tom McGrath’s landlord, owned a furniture store at the corner of East South Street and Park Avenue less than two blocks from his home. More than half a century later, you can see the remnants of the sign that brought customers to his store.

My father worked for the Delaware andHudson Rail Road. One of his greatest joys was sitting on our front porch of our double block home where every night he talked with Tom McGrath.

Why, you ask?

Because Tom McGrath was friendly, open, honorable, trustworthy, kind, respectful, complimentary, loyal and joyful. In a way, Tom McGrath was my father’s third son.

None of us had a lot of money. Our wants were measured, but our hearts were open, generous and filled with the joy of living in a community of good neighbors.

We knew who we were, and we were happy and content to be ourselves without any pretentions.

I learned how to be a good friend by watching Tom and my dad.

I learned how to be a good person by watching Tom and my dad.

I learned how to be a good neighbor by watching Tom and my dad.

After my father’s death in 1967, I learned how to manage the bumps in the road of life by listening to the kind words of encouragement that always came from the heart and soul of Tom McGrath.

During my teenage years, I knew he liked me.

During my young adult years, I knew he cared about me, and during the years of the gift of age, I knew he loved me. These priceless gifts helped me at every stage of my life.

Yes, we had a special relationship, but I dare say everyone Tom knew had a special relationship with him, because he had a heart of gold, a gift for pleasant conversation, the personality of a leprechaun and rock-solid loyalty that make friendships work.

Tom McGrath was the real deal in a word of second editions.

In one of our conversations during his illness, he shared these thoughts:

The most prized possession I have is my faith

Education is the most important portal to success

I never felt neglected because I had a good family, good friends, a good job and good travels.

When I think about Tom McGrath four words come to mind: family, faith, friendship and goodness.

Whenever, we talked, he made beautiful references to his family and his faith in God. It was a humble, inspiring, unencumbered faith.

He loved his wife, Flo, completely. He loved his children, Tommy, Jimmy, Mary Ann, Michael and Sean, with passion that was absolutely pure.

Those of us who were blessed by his friendship felt affirmed and enhanced by the poetry of his compliments and his encouragement.

When you were in his company the goodness of his heart made you feel a life-sustaining sense of belonging.

The last time I spoke to Tom McGrath all of these qualities were evident in our brief conversation. During a very private moment, I told him I loved him, and from his heart he replied with the same words.

Then, I asked him to do me a favor.

When you get to the other side, please tell my parents and my brother I love them.

He forced a smile, and he replied, "I will."

Thomas Merton best described the life and legacy of Tom McGrath, the husband, father, friend and neighbor we honor on his day of parting when he wrote these words:

Every moment and every day of every man’s life plants something in his soul.

Tom McGrath planted beautiful words and beautiful thoughts in my soul ever time we talked.

Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone-we find it with one another.

Love seeks one thing only: the good of the one loved.

For more than 50 years Tom McGrath taught me and everyone he met the meaning of life, the importance of friendship and the power of love. For that and so much more, I will never forget him.

Thank you, Tom McGrath for giving us the beauty of your friendship and the magic of your kind words. In the lives of many, your friendship has made all the difference. We are better people because we knew you and were touched by your goodness and your radiant Face of America on its best day.

Kitch and I are saddened by your passing, but we are consoled by the fact that you are at rest in the peace and joy of the God you love.