MY longtime friend and Decatur Tribune Sports Editor J. Thomas McNamara passed away Monday morning. Treatment of his cancer had been stopped several days earlier because of cancer’s spread in his body. Tom was made comfortable in his final hours and his son, Brian, notified me that “Dad peacefully passed away this morning.”
IT SEEMS like only yesterday, but it was in 1976, that my secretary came into my office and told me that a “Mr. McNamara” would like to speak with me. Although I had been editor and publisher of this newspaper since 1969, our paths had never crossed. Tom was shown into my office and, after some small talk, he asked me to consider letting him write a sports column and it could be called “Irish Stew”.
UP UNTIL Tom came into my office that day, in addition to my editor’s duties, I was also covering high school sports and shooting photos at games and other sporting events. Although I loved covering high school sports in those early years, I had a lot of other responsibilties to handle at the time. I had no hesitation in agreeing to let Tom write a sports column for a few editions — to see how it would work out.
THOSE “few weeks” turned into 45 years — and that single column down the side of one page evolved into 3 to 4 pages of sports each week. Tom later became the sports editor for the Tribune representing this newspaper to schools, coaches, players and fans in a variety of ways. He was also recognized as a sports historian, Tom picked up numerous honors from local and state athletic groups. There is no question Tom was an advocate for the advancement of area high school sports and was not timid about expressing how he felt about issues impacting students and coaches.
ONE DAY last Spring, Tom called me to explain that he was going to have some surgery for kidney stones. Even though he was in a lot of pain he didn’t want to stop his column for awhile, although I did suggest it to him. Over the weeks that followed, it seemed like every doctor’s visit, or trip to the hospital, had more bad news. Then came the diagnosis that he had cancer in his liver and his doctor indicated he would probably have a year to live. He told me: “I’m a fighter and I’m going to make sure I have more time to enjoy my family and write for you.”
THE CANCER spread rapidly and the diagnosis was that Tom had two to four weeks left — and then, last week, as he was moved into hospice care, the diagnosis from a staff member was, that maybe, he had 24 hours left. My last conversation with Tom was on the phone last week and it was fairly short because he wasn’t able to get his thoughts connected, so he gave the phone to his daughter, Michelle, who gave me an update. His son, Brian, told me over the weekend that “He is resting comfortably and peacefully.”
TOM’S last in-person coverage of local sporting events ended where it began in 1976 — with the annual Thanksgiving Basketball Tournament, Tom could only stay for a limited time at the tournament because of the constant pain he experienced. Until he was no longer able to write his column a little over a month ago, Tom had never missed, or even been late, in submitting his copy to me.
NEEDLESS TO point out, I will miss Tom and so will our readers. There will be no more servings of “Irish Stew”. I know many of you have been praying for Tom since his health situation became known and I ask that you continue those prayers for his wife, Nancy, their children Michelle and Brian, and Tom’s other family members because it has been quite an emotional journey for them.
Tom is a Christian and a good man and I have no doubt what the final score of his life is going to be in the eyes of God — the ultimate scorekeeper in the game of life. Rest in peace, my friend.