My dad died last Wednesday, and his seemingly ordinary life had some extraordinary features, which I hope I captured here.
Thomas Nicholas Cootsona started his life in Tacoma, Washington on December 13, 1923and was soon to survive the Great Depression, serve in World War II, and become part of “the Greatest Generation.” His father, Nicholas, emigrated from Greece in 1912 (at the age of 12), and his mother, Elizabeth née Mastel, German by ethnicity, moved from Aberdeen, South Dakota to the Pacific Northwest. Together, as a Greek and a German, this duo might today represent a Eurozone conflict, but in this case, they produced a son who brought together the love of disciplined, rational German engineering with a Greek readiness to celebrate and a pervasive love of life.
Tom attended Stadium High School in Tacoma, then served as an infantry soldier in the Second World War, seeing action in Europe and fighting in the Battle of the Bulge. He came home to Tacoma and, within four years, completed two bachelor degrees from the University of Washington (one in mechanical engineering, one in electrical engineering), and married Ruth Behrens of Puyallup, Washington on August 7, 1949. The marriage took a little courting on Tom’s part, but once together, they never looked back.
After a famous four-month trip to Europe (a dream of theirs), they took to building a home together, first in the Seattle area—where their first son, Marcus, was born—and then Portland. In 1961, tired of the rainy Northwest, they headed down to the sunny, temperate San Francisco Bay Area, which was beginning the first of its economic booms. There Tom started his 20-year career with the Syntex Corporation as project engineer, and not too long after, Ruth gave birth to their second son, Greg.
The Cootsona duo of Ruth and Tom bought a house in Menlo Park and enjoyed superb weather, raising two boys, the beauty of Northern California—especially Lake Tahoe, Carmel, and Half Moon Bay, as well as a range of outdoor activities like tennis. In 1981, it was time to make a career switch. Tom, who always loved the retail environment his father, Nicholas, created and enjoyed, purchased Top Spin Tennis, a tennis specialty shop with the able help of Marcus as manager and, for a time, Greg as well. Of those years, one family friend, Craig Lachman, wrote, “He was always warm and supportive and funny. I remember his laugh cutting through the darkened houses of various theaters and his taking us to a variety of 007 movies. He was always eager to converse when I'd show-up at Top Spin. I think of him often and tell my son about what my friends' father learned in WWII, ‘never pass up a chance to eat, sleep or go to the bathroom.’” Tom indeed, true to his Greek heritage, was a practical philosopher.
Tom and Ruth closed Top Spin Tennis in 2004, and yet continued in their love for retail by working at Marcus’s retail outlet, Pro Tennis, until they retired in 2008 (and thus for Tom, at the age of 85). Shortly thereafter, they moved to Chico to be with Greg and his family and to prepare for a time when they would need assisted living (in a city more affordable than those in the Silicon Valley). During those years, they became involved at Bidwell Presbyterian Church, where Greg was associate pastor. In his physically declining final two years, Tom never lost an inquisitive spirit, an intensely passionate commitment to his wife, nor an expansive friendliness. Tom died peacefully with his cherished Ruthie by his side on April 29, 2015.
Dad, we will miss you—your laugh, your kindness, your incredible dedication to us as your sons, your devotion to mom, your loud and persistent applause during our magic shows or musical performances, your service to our country, your practical wisdom, and your Greek spirit, always ready with a towel over your shoulder and a bottle of sparkling wine—“Why wait for a holiday to have a celebration? Let’s just say, ‘It’s a day!’ and celebrate.” And so, even with some tears, we celebrate you.
Tom is survived by his wife of 65 years, Ruth, and their two sons, Marcus, who lives in Menlo Park, CA, with his wife, Melinda, and their son, Marcus James; and Greg, who lives in Chico, CA with his wife Laura and their two daughters, Melanie and Elizabeth.
There will be a private service to remember Tom. In lieu of gifts, please donate to the Thomas N Cootsona Memorial Fund through the North Valley Community Foundation (240 Main Street, Suite 260; Chico, CA 95928), http://nvcf.org/fund/thomas-n-cootsona-memorial-fund.