TOM was a man born in Georgia, lived in Connecticut as well as other places while he worked for IBM.  I didn’t know him until he lived in Wyoming.  I met him through friends who knew I wanted to paint scenes of the West.  We met in Atlanta at the Episcopal Church.  After the service, we had lunch with his son, Tom, and his family  and made arrangements for me to go out that winter to see if we could put something together in the way of friendship.  We did and I came back out that summer.  Tom “rented” chickens for my Birthday and he and his son, Will, fashioned a part of the barn as a coop for four hens and a rooster.  We enjoyed eggs aplenty, and the sound of the rooster, though some of his neighbors did not appreciate the rooster!

Wyoming suited Tom.  He loved the open spaces, big sky, wind, wildlife, land to raise and ride his horses.  But it was the people he really loved – hardworking, self-reliant, practical, and down to earth.  Their work so physical and anchored to the land.  He introduced me to his friends who have become my friends and enriched my life immeasurably.  Many of them permitted me to tag along on their labors, driving cattle, hay making (the last time rancher, Dave Noble used the Buck Rake and Beaver Slide method which was a beautiful choreography of men, tractor and buck rake. (I think you can google that).  On another winter trip I rode out with a young rancher on a sledge of hay pulled by two big draught horses through the snow.  The wind was fierce, icicles formed on the horses mouths as well as the mustache and eyebrows of the rancher.  Wonderful paintings came of that.  On another outing, haying Elk, I fell of the sledge when the horses moved on and fell onto the antlers of an Elk.  Ended up in the ER for stitches from that one.

Then there was Kip and Bonnie Alexander!  Their ranch was down the road from Tom’s.  When Tom told them he was bringing down a friend from the East to see their operation for painting subjects, Bonnie told me she didn’t expect to see a woman in old wellingtons who knew how to muck out a barn.  We became fast friends, and I took many photos of them branding, castrating and giving shots to cattle which also became paintings.  I left a painting with each rancher as a way of thanking them for sharing their work with me.

Tom and I would ride up in the hills through fields of wild flowers and sage brush.  The smell of the sage as the horses plowed through it was pure elixer.  I was surprised to see Tom strap a holster with a 45 pistol on before we mounted the horses.  “What’s that for?”  I asked.  Grizzlies and rattlesnakes were the answer.  We don’t have those in my neighborhood here.

The people there often converse with a minimal amount of words; many live in solitude, especially in winter when they cannot get off their ranches by vehicle with the deep snow.  When they do speak, much is conveyed by the way the say it and their body language and I came to love their economy of words as did Tom, who talked the same way (except in Tanzania, where his Southern roots came out and he talked with everyone at great length).

Tom started the Land Trust in that part of Wyoming, and we went to many a party – barn dances – which looked like something right out of Hollywood.  Men in boots, jeans and big hats, women the same though some wore skirts with their boots.  Young and old, everyone danced and danced WELL!  For more information on Land Trust’s you can google that as well.

On Tally’s and my first trip to Tanzania, I worte a journal and sent it to a few close friends.  A few of them asked if they could help.  There was my dear friend, Karl, in Germany, who has done so much for the Primary School in the way of scholarships, teacher’s salaries, and now buying a bus!  Tom wanted to help as well, so Tally and I made a trip out to Wyoming in the dead of winter (my favorite time) and made presentations at St. Andrew’s church in Pinedale, and a church in Big Piney.  It was night and 30 below zero.  Tally couldn’t imagine ANYONE coming out in that cold and at night, but all were there with hot coffee waiting.  These two churches gave so much of their treasure for scholarships for the children as well as adults.  They have such an empathy for the subsistence farmers in Tanzania, being farmers themselves.  Tom also learned of a grant he could apply for from the Diocese of Wyoming, and got it.  $150,000, spread over three years.  What a life saver that has been.  This is the last year and now we are trying to create an endowment fund and raise $1,000,000. so that the two schools will be less vulnerable year after year.

Tom put in a herculean effort in managing this fund that the three large books, one for each year, will be taken to the Diocese of Wyoming as an example of how to run such a project!!!

Tally and I will be ever grateful that he got to go to Tanzania last autumn and meet the people he helped and they him.  Tom had lived in two worlds,but died in the one he loved most.  Jessie