Monday, January 29, 2018

Missing my friend Tom ~ My column from Sunday's paper

There is a picture sitting next to the computer in my office. Three faces are smiling so brightly you can almost get a tan looking at the framed photo. I’m sitting between my friends Terry Frasier and Dr. Tom Camp. We’re speeding down the Black Warrior River in the back
Terry, Rick, and Tom
of a boat. Tom’s wife Judy was the boat captain, Jilda was the photographer, and Terry’s wife Ginny was supervising. We were having a large time. In those days, it was easy to imagine that we would live forever. But it turns out that forever was not long enough. My friend Tom died last Sunday.

Last year Dr. Camp fell ill in Honduras while doing mission work there. When he got back stateside, teams of doctors put him through tests and the diagnosis was not good.

When I talked to my friend after he got out of the hospital, he told me he had cancer. He said that no cancer was good, but his was the bad kind. The survival rate for pancreatic cancer is less than 10 percent. Unfortunately, he was not one of the lucky ones.

We said our goodbyes on the Saturday before he died. After spending some time with him, Jilda and I joined his wife Judy and some other friends on their screen porch. It was a beautiful day and the sun slashing through the screen felt warm on my back as I sipped on a hot cup of mint tea.

As I looked around at the faces around me, my mind drifted through the years we’ve spent together. When the conversation lagged, I told Judy that when I look back over the past 40 years, some of the best times in my life were with our circle of friends.

After we first met them in the early ‘80s, they invited us to an impromptu party at their old house which was on the outskirts of Jasper. Apparently, Tom was no friend to bugs. He had the first bug zapper I’d ever seen. The party crowd in the house spilled out onto their back patio. There was music and laughter in the air. As we sat enjoying the warm summer evening, a moth the size of a bat flew into the zapper. It seemed the lights dimmed as the critter fried. The crowd applauded. It didn’t take much to amuse us in those days.

The Camps once invited us to a rug ride. Jilda and I weren’t sure what a rug ride was, but we were game. As it turns out, the clinic where Dr. Camp practiced had bought new carpet for their office. The old rug was on the way to the dump when inspiration struck. Someone nailed the carpet to a long wooden beam and attached the beam to the back of a four-wheel-drive pickup.

There must have been 20 of us wobbling on that carpet like surfers while the driver hauled us around the pasture. The attorney Alexander Shunnarah would have been giddy watching that spectacle.

Fortunately, there were no serious injuries.

When the Camps became interested in raising llamas, they purchased their first one. On their way home with the new critter, they stopped by our annual Christmas Open House to show off their new pet. Before they left, Tom decided to name that first llama Dr. Watson.

Tom like to have fun as much as anyone I’ve ever known, but he was also a servant. He did medical service on a mission trip to Honduras and later decided to start the Alabama Honduran Missions. He called me to ask if I could help him get the website up. I managed that site for years detailing the work they did in that country. Soon the mission grew from a small group of volunteers who went once a year to several teams throughout the year.

He was one of the first physicians at Hope Clinic in Jasper, which provided medical care for those without insurance.

The last time he called me was about two weeks ago. He had a young man who worked for him part-time, but the man needed a steady job. Tom knew I did job coaching at the college so he asked if I could help. I said, of course.

It amazed me that even as weak as Tom was, he was still thinking about how he could serve others.

If my life could be woven into a tapestry, some of the most colorful threads would represent my life with Dr. Tom Camp.

NOTE: Tom asked Jilda and me to sing at his funeral several years ago. We sang a song we wrote. Below are the lyrics.

You come into the world small and frail
Kickin’ and screamin’ and raisin’ hell
Till you feel the warmth of you mama’s arms
You know love from the day you were born

These are ties that bind
Follow you through your life

Memories of birthday cake
A red balloon that flew away
Papa’s laugh and mama’s smell
Old photographs that tell the tell

These are ties that bind
Follow you through your life

There are those who had no choice
Who’ll never feel the joy
Of family and a place to call home
How could you survive
And make it through this life
Facing this old world all alone

There are friends as close as blood
That you lean and count on
Folks that know the good and bad
But you always know they’ve got your back




  1. Condolences on the loss of your friend. You have some wonderful memories of him.

  2. Sounds like a loss even for people who did not know him.

  3. A good friend, a good man. Hugs.

  4. I'd say something encouraging, but there seems to be something in my eye. Value the memory, the vitality.

  5. A great tribute to your friend Tom. He sounds like a wonderful person. So sorry that you lost two good friend in such a short time. My condolences. It's a great photo memorabilia to have on your desk. Hang on to these good memories.
    Hugs, Julia

  6. You were blessed to have such a good friend and I know you will miss him. My sincere condolences on your loss. He sounds like a wonderful person. Your song was wonderful too.

  7. Sweet thoughts of a dear friend well said. One can't help but like the lyrics. Yes our lives are brightened by dear friends. Good stuff.

  8. You gave Tom a lovely send-off by painting a picture of a beautiful soul. The song was a tribute from you and Jilda.

  9. Borrowing one of your favorite words, Dr. Tom sounded truly remarkable. This post reminds me of a favorite song lyric, "For it's the laughter we will remember, when we remember the way we were."


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