Remembering Thomas philbin Jr. (santa in the shadows) 1934-2014
Bob Feuchter Tom Philbin's best friend.
A "family" member. They knew each other for more than half of their lives.
REMEMBERING TOMMY by Bob Feuchter
Tommy Philbin was my friend for fifty four years. And during that time, especially the first thirty or forty years, you think he’ll always be there. That the trips to the city and the nights at the movies and the dinners at the Trattoria Da Alfredo and the long conversations will never end. But sometimes a thought will break through; the thought that nothing is forever. And before you banish that ugly thought from your consciousness, you hope that if this once-in-a-lifetime relationship must end, that it never ends the way that it has: with a year and a half of endless pain and suffering; with the precious days and nights that he has left, spent on the Long Island Expressway, in traffic jams, going back and forth to the city for medical treatment that you hope will kill the cancer before it kills the patient. You hope that it doesn’t end like that. And then you get rid of that thought; you go on having good times together until one day it all falls apart and you lose your best friend. We met around 1959. We both worked in the recreation department at Parkchester, a Met Life project in the Bronx and we both attended Manhattan College in Riverdale. Tommy was as complex as they come. Handsome - James Dean, movie star handsome, gifted athletically and so strong that he could do thirty one-arm push ups. A legendary street fighter who knew no equal; all that blended together with a love of Hemingway and Shakespeare. Who could figure this guy?! He was older than the other students at Manhattan because he was a returning veteran. Another example of his complexity as well as his courage - he had been a paratrooper. This man who was afraid to fly faced down his own demons, faced possible death and jumped out of airplanes. The other students as well as the faculty idolized Tommy. He was president of the Dramatic Society and starred in various plays including those by Shakespeare. Years later as he published perhaps a hundred or more books these acting skills and talents would enable him to be an effective guest on radio and television shows including Good Morning America, and his own regular television spot on NBC. When I met Tommy he was in school and supporting a family by painting; not portraits, houses. I had just been fired by Parkchester and needed a job and so we began to work together at his one man business called P&F Enterprises. What followed remains for me one of the most magical years of my life. We were together almost 24/7 over the next twelve months as we worked together and I moved in with him, Catherine and young Tommy. Tommy became my first adult friendship and the first person aside from my parents and my foster sister, Betty that I ever truly trusted. He was the first person that I told everything to and the first person I ever met who validated the universe for me. He taught me that there were others who felt the same about things as I did. He was the first person to whom I ever said: “You feel that way too?” Because of Tommy and Catherine too I felt connected, appreciated, cherished and loved. They enabled me to do more and be more and to value myself because they valued me. This was also the year of young Tommy’s first Christmas and Tommy and Catherine spent every extra penny from their meager income to make certain that it was special. And then I showed up on Christmas Day with Robbie The Robot, a mechanical toy that mesmerized the kid. He ignored every other toy, not for hours but for days and weeks and even months. It took a long time before I was forgiven for that one. It was also when Tommy’s fear of cancer began to emerge. Then it seemed comical but to Tommy it was real. He obsessed over it and often told the story of disappearing into the bathroom to check for a cancerous growth. One night as he stood on the sink with no clothes on, checking the status of his ass, young Tommy was on the floor, peering under the door, trying to find his father and calling out: “ Daddy, where are your feet?” I eventually moved out and Tommy and Catherine moved to Hicksville and then Centerport. But the friendship deepened and became my most precious relationship. Most New year’s Eves were spent together as well as countless evenings having pizza on Long Island or visiting New York City to eat at Hisae’s Place, Trattoria Da Alfredo - the favorite of Tommy and Catherine, Il Cantinori and Arqua. We even went to Chanterelle, for thirty years one of the best restaurants in the country. Tommy ordered all these wonderful French dishes without any of the sauces that made the place famous. When the co-owner, Karen Waltuck came over to find out what was wrong, Tommy said that he was watching his cholesterol and his weight; that he loved the place and that in a future novel he would have two characters plan a murder in her restaurant. The woman never forgot Tommy or his comment. Tommy is one of my heroes. He followed his dream and though he never found the pot of gold, he became a writer, a respected writer. He did it his way. He was never less than fascinating to be around and you could trust him. Trust - a trait that I find depressingly rare. And grateful. If you did something for him he never forgot it. Long after the favor had been done he would remember it and say thank you. No one does that. He was generous as well. Sometimes too generous. I remember lending him an overcoat one cold January. When he had not returned it by mid August, I asked why? Well Tommy had come across someone who needed it more and so he gave him my overcoat. A man who wrote perhaps a hundred or more books, almost all favorably reviewed has a lot to be proud of. But Tommy was most proud of the children that he and Catherine raised. Understandably so as young Tommy, Anne and Mary are truly special people. I feel so fortunate to know them, to be accepted by them and to be included in the events of their lives - even though they insist on testing my loyalty and love by holding these damn events in Suffolk County. Nobody’s kids match these three. For me this is more than the loss of a friend. It’s the loss of a connection to the world, the loss of someone who understood me, who needed to hear what I was thinking , who made me feel good about who I am. It’s the loss of someone who created so many memories with me and who never tired of reliving those memories. It’s the loss of someone who cares about me and is happy and proud that he knows me. It’s the loss of someone I am significant to. It’s the loss of Tommy. And everyone should be lucky enough to have a Tommy in their life. And I can’t think of anyone to put in his place. Bob Feuchter 3/13/14
Tom Philbin met Joe Beck many years ago when they worked together at Home Depot. There was no doubt they would be friends for years to come. Both shared a crazy sense of humor and a passion to write. I am forever thankful that two days after his 80th birthday and twenty days before he left this earth to journey to heaven, he had the "ultimate play date." The night before (02/08), his family had a cake for him. It was clear that he was getting weaker and more confused as the days passed. On Sunday February 9, 2014, Joe Beck, Bob Feuchter and his brother Michael Philbin spent some time with him. According to my mother, he was more clear headed than he had been for weeks. It makes me happy to know this.
Pastrami and Friend's is an eatery where our parents frequently ate. The people who worked there knew him because he and his wife were always friendly and approachable. During one visit, he had a conversation with one of the waitresses about his police novels and his interest in crime. She told him of a friend, retired (due to an injury) police officer who was interested in writing police stories. They met, and two wonderful books followed. "The Funniest Cop Stories Ever" and "A Lighter Shade of Blue: Weird, Wild, and Wacky Cop Stories" and "A Warmer Shade of Blue: Stories About Good Things Cops Do." Scott was able to visit his friend Tom in his final days in hospice. I watched in silence as he walked up to my father's bed said goodbye. It broke my heart, but felt good to know that together they made a literary footprint in this world.
They walked together! For over 10 years, Tom Philbin walked the Walt Whitman Mall with his walking buddies. Here is a picture of the gang. The man on the right is Larry Krevit, his beloved friend, walking buddy and taxman.