Eulogy on Tom O’Dea by Art O’Dea

I had just turned three years old when my brother Tom was born on June 19,1940. The family lived in a three-bedroom home that we all still affectionately refer to as “250” when sharing our recollections of our childhoods. The house had three bedrooms upstairs. The girls’ room was the largest for the three original sisters – Anna, Liz, and Maureen.  Mom and Dad were at the end of the hall and a very small triangular room with three walls was the boys’ room which was where Tom and I were housed. On one wall there was a mirror; on the other a Crucifix, and on the third wall that famous picture that gave Boys Town Nebraska so much fame when Father Flanagan opened it in the mid 1930s for orphaned boys. It is today a tremendous worldwide institution for orphaned boys and girls. The picture was two boys about 9 and 12 with the younger lad piggybacked on the older one.

In those days many families in Westwood, New Jersey had one or no cars. Pop rented garage space down the street for his large green 1939 Packard. When we went to Maine or the “shore” or the 10 o’clock Mass on Sundays Tom rode in the front seat with Pop driving and Mom in the passenger seat with the baby, Maureen, on her lap. I sat in the back seat between my two older sisters. When Joe and Susan arrived in the early 1950’s a house addition, a two-car garage, and a Ford station wagon were added. That is also when the basketball court was set up in front of the garage and the grape arbor became a field goal where Tom developed his many athletic talents. Our father or I was the catcher when Tom pitched, and I held the football when he practiced kicking the extra point.

Tom always tagged along. Some mornings I would sneak out in the very early hours to get away without him only to catch in my peripheral vision my brother in his heavy green wool sweater and red felt hat darting from tree to hedge following me. He followed me everywhere. When I went to St Cecilia’s High School in Englewood he followed me and there he out-performed me in every phase. When I was sent to the basement at the Georgetown University infirmary for isolation with the measles, Tom found a basement door where he could sneak in each evening and we would visit and have a lot of fun. When Tom came from Philadelphia to Vermont to visit me, it was not for an overnight or a weekend. Tom came for a month. We climbed Mount Katahdin several times, went down the Allagash, Moosehead Lake, and the Battenkill River often with a truck full of our kids and many nephews and nieces. We cleared fields, cut down trees and hung out together bountifully. In our working world we also hung out. I remember several times being asked by a client or a lawyer during a medical malpractice or serious bodily injury trial – ”Did you go to medical school” and my reply “No, but my brother did”. I loved that.

If time were allowed, I could tell many great stories about the close and constant contacts of Tom with his brothers and sisters. He was just always there.

When our Father became seriously ill, they needed to do an operation to see if there could be a cure. Tom was there with all of us– the entire family– when the surgeon gave Tom the bad news. He took each one of us – his mother, his sisters, me, his brother Joe –  all of us who had gathered at the hospital one by one to a corner or waiting room and broke the news that Pop had about a month or two to live. He gave all the details. He answered all the questions. I was amazed as he went about in his camels hair blazer, white shirt, and tie. How does he do it? Calm, smart, kind and loving, he ministered to each of us with complete composure. About fifteen minutes or maybe a half hour after completing his talks with each of us,  I went by myself to stand by a window. We were on about the 4th or 5th floor and down in the parking lot, there was Tom, bent over a car in his camels hair blazer crying his heart out.

There is an exchange reported in The Gospel according to Matthew at Chapter 22 in which a lawyer asks Jesus : what is the greatest commandment? I often recall this exchange because of my own foolish lawyer-thinking that Jesus over answered the question because lawyers are taught never give any more answer than the question calls for. My best recollection of the exchange is Jesus replying: Love the Lord your God with your whole heart and soul AND Love your neighbor. During this past month I have been thinking about my brother Tom a lot– really a lot. Initially my thoughts were about how much we all love Tom. What a wonderful man he was.

But then as the many recollections with my family and others, I came to understand what it is that makes Tom so special. Tom loved us. He loved everyone. His brothers and sisters, his kids, his stepkids, his wife, his nephews and nieces and other doctors, staff persons, his medical students, his patients….. Sharing stories once not too long ago he described removing the bandages for a young man who had appeared in the emergency room with his hand severed. As Tom described the intensity of removing the bandages and checking if each finger was working, his love for that patient and his joy of success was clear. But his love for that young man with his hand restored was his total joy from the service. I learned many, many things from my brother Tom but the greatest lesson he carried was LOVE ONE ANOTHER.

Every time now when his current status comes into my mind I recall his receiving the Eucharist with me a couple months before his death and I say a prayer that I will ask all of us to say together. The prayer I learned from that Boys Town poster on our bedroom wall. A prayer to our Heavenly Father.   HE AIN’T HEAVY, FATHER. HE’S MY BROTHER 

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