Tom Calomeris, 1942-2014
Invariably, a funeral is focused on life. There is a remembrance of the deceased, a gathering of family and friends, and most certainly reflection by the living. For Christians there is the obvious liturgical narrative woven through the proceedings about life after death.
This week I reunited with some past team mates as our coach was laid to rest in a rural, historic and beautiful mountain cemetery outside of Lexington, Virginia.
There were moving tributes, including eulogies by Cal’s daughter Tina Prather and one-time CUA team captain Brian Larkin. There were stories told and old acquaintances reestablished as well. A bevy of family hugged, laughed and cried a little too.
Cal played many roles. He was a husband and father, grandfather, and coach, certainly. He never really stopped being a member of the fraternity that goes with his two decades of service in Maryland law enforcement. He was a parishioner, motivator, disciplinarian and to countless people on the cusp of adulthood, a role model.
In my life, he was the prime mover behind a move from a small town in Illinois to Washington, D.C. That move kept me in school. By the time I visited CUA as a recruit in April 1992, I had been in touch with Cal for approximately a year. While he was interested in me as a swimmer, I wasn’t interested at all in becoming a student. I had not applied to college — not to Catholic University and not to any other schools excepting James Madison University though my interest in the Virginia university had waned substantially.
Long story short, I visited campus over Easter break, met the swim team at a picnic hosted at Cal’s house, took part in various irresponsible activities both on and off campus and decided that going to college wouldn’t be all that bad and if done well could be tons of fun. In the subsequent two weeks Cal was able to both get my formal application to the right office of the university as well as have a generous package of financial aid communicated to me.
I distinctly remember taking a phone call from him after my application was accepted and the financial aid letter had been sent. Our telephone was affixed to the wall in the kitchen and it had a long, probably ten foot, cord that would allow you to walk around. I didn’t need the cord. The unhappy call was short. I had to explain how grateful I was for his efforts but that I wouldn’t be able to accept. He wanted to know where I was going instead. I had no plan and despite the generosity of the grants, the scholarships, low interest loans and the guarantee of a work-study position on campus, the difference between the price tag and what I was able to pay with funds from my parents’ savings, my own savings and additional loans was simply too great.
He didn’t miss a beat. He asked me to hold off for a few days and not to make any commitments about my future. True to form, he was optimistic, resourceful, focused on a goal and indefatigable. A new financial aid offer arrived within the week. There wasn’t a tremendous change — as I recall, it was about $2,500 and only guaranteed for the first two years if I maintained good grades — but it was enough. And I became a Cardinal.
Cal was THE catalyst to the path of my adult life. He also provided the guardrails as I started down that path. Until I met Cal I had never worked hard at anything in life except swimming. I was not entirely disengaged with life. I enjoyed family, friendships, other sports and extra-curricular activities. I had jobs. I read. But I didn’t commit and really work hard. When I came to Catholic University as an 18 year old I was an indifferent student for the first semester and the grades showed it. But by then his influence started to take hold. The practice of skating by with Bs turned to searching for the best professors, the most challenging seminars and much better grades. Eventually, I graduated early with honors and a double major.
Cal cared about his team — our times, our win-loss record, how we got along and as is undoubtedly the case at the majority of schools, whether we were putting in the effort in the classroom. He had an old-school, blue collar sentimentality about work, respect, and taking the long view about life.
He was in my life nearly every day during a critical period of development and maturation. He lived an example of living true to your talents, pursuing excellence, and sacrificing in order to contribute to others’ success. He could be hard. He was often crazy and frustrating. He was a throwback from another era who had no problem embracing New Age-ie language about how to marry the mind to the body and belief to performance.
Tom Calomeris leaves behind a wife and four children. Their lives have dramatically changed with his death and my prayers for peace are with them all. It is no small thing to live well and Cal did so; he did so by helping others do the same.