You can click here to download a copy of the eulogy which you can read below.
Thomas More McFadden 1935-2022
Eulogy delivered by William Pickett
December 17, 2022
morning. I'm Bill Pickett, and I'm the person who had the good sense to hire
Tom at St. John Fisher College as our chief academic officer. I had the pleasure of working with him for the
five years he was there. Then like
everybody else, when Tom was a part of your life, he never let go. He's been a
part of my life ever since that time.
Tom asked me to do this..well he didn’t quite asked me, exactly. It was a
typical kind of McFadden] move with a little charm and some humor. So, this was
a telephone conversation the week before he died. At the time there seemed like there might
have been a path to a treatment that he was considering. And he said to me--Marilyn
and I were both on the phone with him--he said, "Now, Bill, I want you to
do me a favor. Will you try and keep my eulogy to under 50 minutes? Maybe 45 if
you can't quite fit it in?"
course, did what you just did. I laughed. I said, "Well, Tom, it's going
to be hard to do, but I'll give it a go." And I kind of knew in the back
of my head, and certainly once we got off the phone, I realized what had just
happened. Maybe he didn't know he was
going to die so soon, but he was beginning to make preparations. And he had
asked me, in his own way, to give his eulogy. So, here I am.
was a second century bishop who had a line that is often translated as,
"The glory of God is a human being fully alive." And that's Tom. I
mean, he fully inhabited who he was. He fully inhabited his abilities and
skills and his relationships. He was, as David said and Ed said, fully present
in whatever the moment was. He was fully alive. He was a student, a scholar, a
teacher, a priest, an educational leader. And if that weren't enough, he was,
from a young age, a gifted athlete. He played baseball and had a lifelong love
for the game. Tennis, golf, sailing. I didn't know about the tennis until I
read David's very fine obituary, which if you haven't read, you should. I
learned some things about Tom. It's such a well-done job.
you get to the point where you can't participate, but Tom was a great fan of
any kind of athletic endeavor, great fan of baseball from an early age, a
lifelong ... Well, I thought he was a lifelong Dodgers fan, but turned out he
was not because as a young boy--this is almost unbelievable, growing up in
Brooklyn--he decided that he needed to decide who he was going to root for
among baseball teams by figuring out which baseball team had the most Catholics.
And to this day, I'm not quite sure how he figured that out. Something to do
with players wearing scapulars. I don't know how this all worked, but he
determined that it was the St. Louis Cardinals. So, as a young boy, he was a
Cardinal fan. He got over that and became
a Dodgers' fan, of course. And then, when they left and scampered out to Los
Angeles, there he was back home with the Dodgers.
was also a fan of his children and especially his grandchildren. You couldn't
spend any time with Tom and not know what the four of them were up to, what
their academic achievements were, what their athletics, their professional. He
always had that information, and he was always so proud of them. He attended as
many of the athletic events as he could, and thankfully, many of them were
close enough to drive to, and he really enjoyed that. And somehow, he got the
nickname on the fields at Mercyhurst after games of being Grandpa Jello Shot. I'm a little confused as to how that
happened. It had something to do with celebrations at mid field, and Tom
participated as he did. I'm not sure he completely was down with the Jello shots,
but [inaudible 00:05:22] he wasn't having a scotch in the evening.
was a man of many accomplishments, as we've heard, but people aren't really
remembered that much for their accomplishments. Any of us can have a list of
things we've done, institutions we've served, all of that. What we remember
about people is how they did it, who they were as a person. And Tom, from my
time working with him and being with him as a friend, did his work and did his
accomplishments with a grace. He was graceful in these settings. It was the
grace of a natural athlete, the one who can stand relaxed, crack jokes, talk
about other things even though there's an impending task because he knows he
has the confidence in his own ability. And when that task comes, he'll be able
sometimes, that confidence as a natural athlete put Tom in some perilous
conditions. He and young David, younger than David is now, found themselves on
the north shore of Oahu, Hawaii because they, after all, were skilled at being
in the surf off the Jersey Shore. So, they wanted to go see what all of this
big wave stuff was about on the North Shore. And as they entered the water,
they noticed somehow that the lifeguard towers were much, much higher than the
ones on the Jersey shore. But they didn't take time to figure out why that
would be the case until as they're out chest deep in the water, they hear a
claxon go off and an announcement that, in fact, from one of those high towers,
they have now spotted a 40-foot wave that was headed their way. And anyone who
wasn't very experienced should get the hell out of the water immediately, which
they did thankfully, as we know.
Tom did have that grace of a natural athlete. And another thing about him that
I know my wife, Marilyn, always treasured, and I know you do too, it was
particularly evident during Covid when we had to cover our face, was that Tom's
eyes were always smiling eyes. There was something alive and comfortable and
humorous in the twinkling of those eyes that came through to people as they
related to him. Now, for someone who was as comfortable doing all the things he
did, a lot of people didn't realize how hard he worked because that kind of
easiness. It's like the story about the dock, very calm on the surface,
underneath paddling like hell.
one example of that is his work on accreditation. Something that most of us
don't thankfully have anything to do with, but if you have had anything to do
with accreditation, you know it requires a close reading of some of the worst
writing that exists in the world. It's not graceful writing, and it's about
material that is absolutely dull, but essential to the accreditation process.
And Tom, even after he left California, as president of a college when you're
expected to do that, he continued doing accreditation work and was actually
called in to handle some very difficult cases. Things like, "Should we
pull the accreditation from a college or not?" That's a very serious step.
And Tom was called in to work on that team, "Should we grant accreditation
to new institutions?" One in California. And he worked in Kurdistan, I
think working with some institutions there.
was trusted by his fellow professionals, and they knew how hard he worked. The
only other person who knows how hard he worked is Monica, who would see him
constantly in the den, in the study, reading these reports, taking careful
notes, and then working to write those to send back those reports and going out
visits. And most people may be outside of the higher ed network, don't know
this, but you don't get paid for that work. That's all volunteer work. That's
commitment to the enterprise of higher education, to which Tom was very
committed, and he worked so hard at that.
if I had to say one thing about Tom, it would be he was a great teammate. He
really was. He loved nothing more than being part of a group with a common
goal. And everybody wanted to be on a team with Tom, or if you had a team, you
wanted Tom to be on. When I interviewed him in 1987, I was in that position,
and I knew that I wanted Tom McFadden to bring himself and his person into the
team that was responsible for the college. And he had an impact well beyond
what you might think he would've had at the college. And it still stands as the
best decision I ever made in my career.
you wanted to be on a team with Tom because he found joy in whatever the work
was, no matter how unpleasant or how difficult. He found a sense of joy in
that. And he was always affirming other team members. I don't think I ever
heard him be critical. He was affirming of other people and their attempts and
the ways in which they were trying to help the enterprise. And he found humor
in all the appropriate places, especially himself.
towards the end of Tom's first year at Fisher, he came up with this idea that
there should be a baseball game between administrators and faculty at St. John
Fisher College and St. Joseph's College in Philadelphia from whence he had
come. And he found out that you could, without paying any fee, use Abner
Doubleday Field in Cooperstown because they want baseball being played here.
I'm not sure they wanted our kind of baseball. So, the only requirements were
two, you had to have team uniforms, and you had to pay these two old umpires
because you needed to have an umpire. You just couldn't go off and make calls
yourself. And if any of you have remembered the film “League of Their Own, at
the very end of that, there's a reunion game in Cooperstown, and if you ever
see that, you'll see those same two umpires. Those are the guys who umpired our
got a ringer. And so, my son, Brendan, who was going into his junior at Aquinas
was our ringer because God knows we needed somebody to play catcher. That was
way beyond any of our capabilities. And the other team had a ringer, as well.
So, we had our ringer, and turns out we only really had one pitcher, Thomas More
McFadden. We decided we probably needed to get together for a practice. So, we
did. We gathered on a field, and as my son, Brendan, told me this week when I
was telling him, he said, "You know, Dad, none of you guys had any
business being on baseball field." But we had to practice batting. So, we
had Tom throw batting practice during our practice, which meant that the next
day his arm was absolutely dead. So, we go down to Cooperstown without a
pitcher. Although he throws the ball, it was not a pretty picture. So, we lost
both games. We came from behind and stayed behind.
while we were there playing, looking kind of like two baseball teams, people
would come in. People who are visiting Cooperstown would come into the stadium.
You know, you kind of go in, peek around, see what's going on. And so, there
were a group of Japanese tourists who come into the stadium, and they're all
over, and they're taking pictures of us playing baseball, and they're going to
go back home and talk about how at the birthplace of baseball, they saw these
two teams slugging it out on their Field of Dreams. Tom loved telling that tale
because of what it said about him and his ability to find humor in what we were
doing. It was so ridiculous what we were doing. We never did it again. Tom
couldn't recruit anyone to do it again. But as I said before, once you were
part of a team with Tom, he just never let you go. He stayed in touch with
people from every organization he had been a part of over his entire life. It's
of us, maybe most of us don't do that, but Tom did. He did. And when Tom asked
you, "How are you doing?" it wasn't the way I asked, "Hey, how
you doing?" It was, "No, how are you doing?" And he really
wanted to know, and he listened to what you said, and because of that, you really
told him how you were doing right then at that moment. I've had conversations
with Tom, such a close friend of mine, that I've never had with anyone else
because he listened and was present and listened to you. And because you no
matter what you said, you didn't put anything at risk in terms of Tom's love
and affection for you. You weren't risking anything. And no matter how things
were going, people always felt that Tom had a profound sense of happiness about
him, no matter what.
people set high bars for friendship but Tom didn't. He saw humanity in every
person, and he was inherently interested in anyone that he came across. Tom and
I had breakfast every Saturday, once they got back to Rochester, every Saturday
for years until Covid and then, his illness began to make that impossible, or
to interfere with it, at least. And these were not quick breakfasts. No, they went
on at least two hours, and we talk about all sorts of things. I mean
everything. And the image that came to my mind, and it came to Tom's, those of
you that ever saw The Muppet Show, the two old guys in the balcony looking down
at what's going on in the stage, a stage they had been on. But they weren't on that stage anymore. They
were up here, and they were outraged that the stupidity and they couldn't
explain was going on in the world. And then, maybe not like those two guys,
soon we would find things that would generate hope for the future in the
country, politics, higher education. And there was so much about today's world
that neither one of us really understood. I used to explain a lot of technical
things to Tom, but I couldn't explain TikTok.
I mean, I can't. I know what it is, but why? I don't know. So, we would
throw up our hands just like those old guys.
all miss Tom. My life, your lives, all of our lives are less light-filled, less
bright, certainly less filled with good news. We miss him. And what I'm about
to say is probably theologically suspect, but I'm sure Ed will appreciate it.
And I know Tom would.
miss Tom, but I think Tom misses us. Tom's life was never a one-way street, a
street laid out to get efficiently from point A to point B. It was never that
kind of street. I like to think, to imagine, it was like those streets in
Brooklyn where he grew up. It was filled with traffic and vehicles of all
types, stick ball games, jump rope, hopscotch, street vendors, people gathered
on stoops, children, parents, teenagers, and seniors. And then,, Tom walked
through those streets, stopping to engage with groups, sharing his life with
each one and receiving back from them that energy that came from that
interchange. This past week, we've been reading about fusion. Some of you may
have been reading about that. I mean, I don't really understand what's going
on, but I know that they've reached something called ignition, which was for a
very brief second, the energy that they bombarded this BB with created more
energy than that total energy used. And I thought, "That's Tom." That's Tom and his relationship with people.
His energy created something in us and our relationship that generated even
more more energy, more affection, more sharing.
Covid came, we would go to a lot of movies, the four of us, Monica and Tom and
Marilyn and I. Tom and I had very
different aesthetics when it came to movies. I always accused Tom, not accused
him, well yeah, of being way too Aristotelian. He wanted a straight narrative
line. And at the end of that, he wanted to find a message, some deeper meaning.
And I was a little more post-modern. I just said, "Tom, sometimes there
isn't any meaning. It's just stuff is happening, and you just got to engage with
it. Maybe meaning emerges, maybe not." Never did get him convinced to go
see the Lobster or the Swiss Army Man, if anybody remembers that. But we did go
to see The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, with Nicholas Cage. And Tom admitted, he said, "I really
enjoyed that." And he said, "I wouldn't have gone to see it unless it
was your week to pick the movie." So, I felt great victory there. We would
go to these movies, and Marilyn knows I always want to get there before the
trailers start because I want to see what's coming. Right? And so we go, and
the four of us, in the nice comfortable recliners now, would be watching the
trailers. And at the end of that, the three of them would go like this. And I'd
be down on the end saying, "Oh, I think this is pretty good." I never did get around to trying to convince
him to see “Everything Everywhere All at Once.”
think now Tom would say, "Well, Bill, if what you described is a movie
about my life, what's the meaning? What does it all amount to when you get to the
end?" And I think it's pretty simple.
For Tom, the most important thing in life was human relationships. And
they were too important to be left to chance. You needed to step out and be
proactive and contact people and be in touch with people. Don't let it go
because a relationship can die and wither away. And then your life becomes less
full. And the life of people you would be in touch with would be less full. So,
if each one of us, going forward, just would do that a little bit more than
we've done or than we think is comfortable for us, we'll do great honor to the
memory of this remarkable human being who was father, husband, grandfather,
uncle, and my closest friend.