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Obituary: Thomas Reardon

The loss of Tom Reardon, community leader and founder of the Oyster Festival has left a large tear in the fabric of the Oyster Bay community. A larger than life presence, he held many prestigious positions in the community.

Thomas Reardon, CIC, CPCU, died shortly after the 26th festival on October 21, 2009. His formal obituary from the DeVine Funeral Home sketches in his life. “He was the husband of Mary Ann. Loving father of Andrew (Kristen), Thomas, and Emily. Cherished grandfather of Ella, and Owen. Dear brother of Catherine V., Joan (David) Kirkpatrick, Mary (Harry) Meyers, Alice (Thomas) Casey. Ex–Chief, Past President and active member of the Oyster Bay Fire Co. # 1, Member of 5th Battalion Chiefs, Past President of the Oyster Bay Chamber of Commerce, Oyster Bay Rotary Club, and Boys and Girls Club of Oyster Bay-East Norwich. Past Grand Knight of Knights of Columbus Council #1206, President of the Oyster Bay Youth and Family Counseling Agency and Board Member Doubleday Babcock Senior Center, an active member of the Sagamore Rowing Association, and Past Board Member of the Nassau County Independent Insurance Agents Association.”

With that impressive list of where he shared his energy and commitment, it is easy to see that his mourners would be many. As a result, the family received friends at the Oyster Bay Fire Company # 1 at 188 South Street on Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 24 and 25. The funeral Mass was held on Monday in the Chapel of St. Dominic’s R.C. Church. The Interment followed at Locust Valley Cemetery.

Donations may be made to Oyster Bay Charitable Fund in memory of Tom at P.O. Box 132 Oyster Bay.

The Oyster Bay Charitable Fund was created to funnel the profits from the Oyster Festival back into the community. Tom Reardon, was the Oyster Festival 2009 chairman emeritus, and its treasurer. Helping offset the losses as a result of this year’s festival wipeout will help the foundation, but it won’t replace the loss of the man, said his son Tom.

Mr. Reardon left a great legacy with the Oyster Festival. The Oyster Festival is run by the Rotary Club of Oyster Bay through the efforts of members of the nonprofit community of Oyster Bay. This year Paul Rosen and Kristen Reardon were co-chairs of the festival. Tom recruited his daughter-in-law to volunteer for the festival.

Rotarian Jack Bernstein, Esq., chair of the TR Statue Fund Inc., of which Tom was a member, said, “It’s going to be a tremendous loss to the community. I’ve been involved in some of the groups he has, in Rotary and the TR Statue Fund and also on Youth and Family Counseling Agency – as well as many other boards we have been on together, and it was amazing that he put in so much time on them. It was incredible. He is going to be missed. He’s too young, and he had too much to give. He had much more to give,” said Mr. Bernstein.

Paige Dawson said, “I was hugely sad to hear about Tom Reardon’s passing. It was sudden and upsetting for the whole community. At least he got in his Oyster Festival time – it meant so much to him.”

Tom Reardon regularly attended the Wednesday luncheon meetings held at Il Piatto restaurant. Rotary member Isaac Kremer said, “Tom Reardon was the focus of the whole meeting on Oct. 21. The talk was a mix of extreme sadness but also celebrating his extraordinary community service with a hope that each one of us will continue that commitment.”

Rotary President Jim Werner was Mr. Reardon’s rowing partner at the Sagamore Rowing Association. Mr. Werner said, “He was a lot of personality. I rowed with Tom, and was at the Oct. 22 Sagamore Rowing Association board meeting. We weren’t board members but we used to attend. They paused for a moment of silence. Someone commented that it was inappropriate because there was nothing silent about Tom.”

Mr. Werner said, “Tom Reardon joined Rotary in 1974. Tom was the epitome of Rotary’s 4-Way Test: Of the things we think, say or do: 1. Is it the Truth? 2. Is it Fair to all concerned? 3. Will it build goodwill and better friendships? 4. Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

“Tom’s contributions to Rotary’s local, district, and international initiatives were countless, but the most notable project was that he helped organize the first Oyster Festival. Tom lived his life following the Rotary motto of “Service Above Self”. His Rotary activities extended well beyond Oyster Festival. Tom was involved with Rotary projects such as: the Annual Doubleday Babcock Senior Dinner; Mill Neck Apple Festival; TR Statue Committee; High School Senior Honors Lunch (Tom would emcee this annual event that recognized the student leaders at St Dominic High School and OBEN HS).

“He was a Past President Rotary Club of Oyster Bay; President Rotary Club Foundation; Oyster Bay Charitable Fund; Hospitality Chairman for four Rotary District Conferences; Host Family Rotary International Youth Exchange; Better Oyster Bay (BOB) Summer Program; editor of the Clamdigger, the weekly Oyster Bay Rotary newsletter; Rotary bench project.

“Tom was directly responsible for sponsoring scores of new members into the Club. His leadership and fellowship will be missed,” the president said.

On a personal level, Mr. Werner said, “Tom and I used to row the Marcellino, but it is a midweight boat, and as Tom would say ‘We ain’t no midweights.’ With the money the SRA earned at last year’s Oyster Festival, they bought a heavyweight double (Wintech). The boat has not been named, and the board is considering naming it after Tom.”

While it was Mr. Werner who was a rower since college, and who coached Tom, he said, “Tom took me rowing! If I had work or a conflict and could not row, he would harp all over me. It’s hard to be at the boathouse at 7 a.m. on a Saturday if you row by yourself. But knowing that Tom was there, probably as early as 6:30 waiting, sleeping in was not an option.

“I was impressed by the passion he quickly developed for the sport. I think he enjoyed the tranquility of the water, and fellowship within the Sagamore community was very important to him. By no reach was Tom an athletic guy, but rowing became a great equalizer that allowed him to compete among his peers. Tom enjoyed the few times he rowed the quad, and fully respected that he was in a boat with 200+ years of rowing experience. He always felt bad when he banged oars while rowing in the quad, but he was thankful for the patience and instruction that his teammates (Spencer, Gunther, Mitch, Chuck, Troy, Rudy, David, and Cliff) offered him.

“I’ll miss staring at the back of his big head for six miles with that dirty red Bubba Gump hat.

“In my rowing career, I flipped three times. Two times were with Tom. He will be missed,” said Jim Werner.

The SRA boat Tom and Jim originally rowed in was named after NYS Senator Carl Marcellino who obtained the funding for the boat. Senator Marcellino, a Rotarian, said, “I offer the Reardon family, his wife Mary Ann his children and grandchildren my condolences on this great loss. I hope that they and all of Tom’s friends and colleagues can take comfort from the knowledge that our community is a better place thanks to Tom Reardon. He embodied the spirit and lived the Rotarian motto of ‘Service Above Self.’ He will be deeply missed by those of us who were fortunate enough to know him and call him a friend.”

Kathy Wilson, Senator Marcellino’s community relations director and the former executive director of the Oyster Bay Chamber of Commerce and at that time, the festival promoter said, “It’s the end of an era… with his passing.”

The era Ms. Wilson referred to were the days when the chamber and the festival were run by Mr. Reardon, Joe McLaughlin, Robbie Hallock, Michael Corssen, Mary Jane Witt and Herb and Myra Lee Machol.

Myra Lee Machol said, “The Oyster Festival was started at a chamber meeting at Uwe’s with Tom saying we have to do an event and that he always wanted to do an oyster fest. It was decided and everyone had a chore they were going to do.

“Tom decided he was the father of the Oyster Festival and that is what he was. It was Tom’s vision. Tom’s idea. Then the committee and everyone said, ‘What a great idea for Oyster Bay, an Oyster Festival.

“Butler Flower (of Frank M. Flower & Sons, Inc. shellfishing company) was there at the beginning. He donated the oysters in the beginning. He said, ‘What was good for Oyster Bay was good for the oyster industry.

“It was all Tom’s vision.

“Jean Van Riper was the president of the Oyster Bay Chamber of Commerce when this all got started. This is all very dear to me. It’s how I met all my friends. I remember during the first festival, people at one booth flipping things to another, sharing things. It brought people together and created such a sense of community.

“The very first year when we were trying to put it all together, I used Tom’s stop watch to time the oyster shucking contest. He told me to put together the contest and said, ‘Use my watch and time them.’ Once, during the bike race an alarm went off in town hall and police cars were coming in from all over. He said, ‘Why are you worried?’ He said, ‘Don’t worry it will all work out.’

“He did all the site planning for the festival. He made sure it was laid out safely. He was the chief of the Oyster Bay Fire Company No. 1 and he wanted to be sure they could come in in any emergency. Tom had a comment and a foot in everything.

“Now I guess, Tom, Herb and Mary Jane are up there running a festival and he is probably telling them what to do.

“He had knee surgery one year and hobbled around, it didn’t make any difference, he was there. He was also the chief in charge during the Avianca crash rescue work. He was very proud that NYC tried to come in and push him out but he took charge,” concluded Ms. Machol.

Oyster Festival Expert

“I was involved with the Oyster Festival at first through my nonprofit preschool,” said Beverly Zembko. “It was actually Tom who suggested I become a Rotarian and I told him I would definitely consider it since I had left the school board in 2002. In 2003 at Tom’s suggestion I joined. He also got me involved on the board of Youth and Family Counseling which I did with him for three years.

“He will be sorely missed. He could answer any question you had about the Oyster Festival. He and Michael Corssen ran the food court before me. He did the tent ordering and worked with the fire marshal. I learned all the details of running the food court from Tom.

“He was one man who had so much knowledge in his head he could always pull it out and he always had such a quick wit. In Rotary he was always giving us a challenging question in the Clamdigger: some trivia he knew. Sometimes they were very hard to figure out.

“It was he who suggested, after the chamber dropped the Oyster Festival, that Rotary take it over. It was one nonprofit helping all the nonprofits. He asked us to consider it seriously since someone had to do it. (It had a life of its own by then.)

“His help was totally indispensable,” said Ms. Zembko.

Oyster Bay Chamber of Commerce President Alex Gallego said, “I think Tom was a fantastic human being and I miss him as a community leader. He was someone we could count on. He has been a great friend and his passing is a big loss to the community. He gave a lot of himself to the community and he is going to be missed. The chamber is having a greater presence at the Oyster Festival again, and his open mindedness helped us to move forward. In the past the chamber relationship with the Rotary and Festival Committee wasn’t that great but a friendship between Tom and myself helped create a better atmosphere. That and, his wanting to put the community first.”

This year the chamber was active on Audrey Avenue and had a booth in the food court.

TR as a Board Member

Mr. Reardon was involved with the Youth and family Counseling Agency of Oyster Bay. “The board and staff at the YFCA mourn deeply the loss of our friend and colleague Tom, and our thoughts are with Mary Ann and all of Tom’s family. We reflect with pride on Tom’s 21 years of service to the YFCA and his lifetime of service to our community,” said Tim Archdeacon, Youth and Family Counseling Agency board president.

At the YFCA meeting on Sept. 8, the board honored outgoing President Tom Reardon whom they said, has supported and served the agency in a number of leadership roles on the board for the past 19 years. Tom was appointed the vice president for Special Gifts.

Another group that benefited from Mr. Reardon’s dedication is Doubleday Babcock Senior Center. “On behalf of the Board of Directors, members and staff of Doubleday Babcock Senior Center, we are deeply sorrowed by the untimely passing of Tom Reardon. He was a member of our Board of Directors for over 22 years and became a Vice President in 2007. Tom was influential in helping this organization reach its Capital Campaign goal to facilitate the purchase of this building. Outside of DBSC, he was a community leader and a great friend and supporter to many non-profits. He will be sorely missed and our hearts go out to his family especially his wife, Maryann, his children and grandchildren,” said Doubleday Babcock Senior Center Executive Director Gail Speranza.

Tom was the vice president of the Doubleday Babcock Senior Center board. “He is the one who got me involved with the board,” said Eileen Sheehan. “He got (my husband) George onto the Youth and Family Counseling board. He’d say he was surprised we were all still friends (after putting them to work for those groups). Tom was always the voice of reason. He kind of put everything into perspective for us. Tom was on the DBSC board so long when something came up and we didn’t know why we did something, he could always tell us why. Tom always knew. That history and a mind like a stop watch. He didn’t forget. He was very important for the community.” She said when she read his obituary, “I didn’t realize all the things he was involved in. He had his hand in so many things,” said Ms. Sheehan.

Tom Reardon’s death was a surprise and a shock to everyone. “He was walking around the Oyster Festival on Saturday, and not riding in one of the golf carts. He said it was good for his health. He has been rowing a kayak to the Bayville Bridge in the mornings,” said Betty Tiska, a regular volunteer at the Oyster Festival.

At the East Norwich Chamber of Commerce meeting, there was a moment of silence for Tom Reardon. Rosemary Colvin said she served on the YFCA board with Tom. She said, “He was fantastic, going to the county and fighting for funds. People knew about his work with the Oyster Festival but he was also a great help to the Hispanic Cultural Center. He was the first to support their cause and let them use his office for meetings. Where people had needs, he found solutions: TR knew and cared for them. We have lost a legend,” said Ms. Colvin.

ENCA membership chair Mel Warren said he worked with Tom for 15 years on the Oyster Festival as he ran the Arts & Crafts vendors. “I’ll miss him. We were always throwing barbs at one another. He ruffled feathers but he got things done in his own way.”

Friends Speak Out

At the wake on Saturday, Oyster Bay Fire Company No. 1 firefighter James Camarata, Esq. was standing by the lighted stand holding one of many sign-in books that would be used at Mr. Reardon’s wake at the firehouse. Knowing the attendance would be great, Mr. Reardon was laid out in the upstairs meeting room, with a sea of chairs waiting for friends of the Reardons.

Mr. Camarata said, “Tom was one of the ex-chiefs and president: a great leader in the fire company. He was the chief in charge of the Avianca plane crash, but you have to look at the overall impact he had on the fire company. What he brought was so much rather than spotlight 15 minutes of fame in the media. All his contributions were about being a selfless individual in everything he did. He always thought of everyone first, before himself.

“We spent a lot of time together working on projects for the fire department but Tom will be remembered for the Oyster Festival and I won’t forget that time I spent working with Tom on the Oyster Festival.” Mr. Camarata is a past Oyster Festival chairman. Under his watch they produced an Oyster Festival gala preview party and brought in the fireworks.

Standing on line to meet the family was Tom Tini, a son of Andy Tini, Rotarian and the person who will be remembered for bringing in the Manship statue of Theodore Roosevelt to the community through his faith in the project.

Tom Tini said he went to school with Mr. Reardon’s sister Mary. “Everything that happens in this town, he’s either part of it or supporting it. I think everyone feels that way. He was involved with so much in the Oyster Festival right before he died – right till he died. He certainly made the most of the time he was here,” he said.

Tom’s sister Kate said, “He was the go to guy in the family. I had a mouse in the house and I said to him, ‘come and get the mouse.’ When a tree came down, he said ‘don’t worry I’ll send someone to take care of it.’”

Tom’s sister Mary said, “He became the patriarch. Our dad died at 56, similar to Tom.” Their mother was a widow with five children and worked in his insurance business to support them. Joan said she and her sister Mary had both married in a double-wedding about six months before his death, and had left home. Tom and Alice were in college and Kate was at home. When Tom left college he worked for MetLife for a while and then left and took over the family business in Oyster Bay. “He was the definition of the go to person.”

Tom recently sold the business, “to ease his life,” but he was still working there.

A dainty woman, Alice Reardon Casey is Tom’s twin. He was the older twin. “The big guy fought his way out first,” said her son Tommy Casey. “My husband’s name is Tom, too. They both went to Mount St. Charles Academy in Woonsocket, Rhode Island and Tom introduced us,” said Alice.

“It’s such a great loss,” said Shirlee Gerstein, longtime staff member of Youth and Family Counseling Agency of Oyster Bay-East Norwich with which Tom was board president and before that a board member. “He was a man beyond all reason and I feel that Mary Ann was a real partner. She gave him quiet strength to do all the things he was able to do. I really feel for her,” she said, holding back tears.

Past Rotary President Donna Goyena Lee too found it hard to speak. Her mother, Fran Goyena Pinkerton said, “I’ve known Tom for 25 years. He was a great guy; Mr. Oyster Bay; he did anything he could to help anyone.” “The ear of Oyster Bay,” is what he was, said Donna. “I hope everyone he welcomed into the fold and mentored, take his lead. He would take the newcomer and welcome him.”

In keeping with the theme of Tom welcoming people into the community, Thomas Kuehhas, Oyster Bay Historical Society director said, “He was Mr. Oyster Festival. He probably was one of the first people I met when I came to Oyster Bay. He really made an impact on my son Richard. Tom turned up at the (Earle-Wightman House) museum dressed in his Santa’s best. I guess he had been on the fire truck or at an Oyster Bay Fire Company party. He really surprised Richard. He was about 16 months old at the time, in about 1997.”

Paige Dawson, Oyster Bay Chamber of Commerce vice president said, “He’s so much a part of the fabric of Oyster Bay. He was younger than I but his family and my family were friends growing up. (The Dawsons and the Reardons.) The DeVine family too.”

Karen DeVine said, “I have known Tom Reardon my entire life. I grew up across the street on Tooker Avenue; babysat for his kids; when I started in the business (DeVine Funeral Home, Inc.) Tom became a mentor and friend. He was a true friend – he listened and said what he thought, not what you wanted to hear but what you needed to hear.

“He gave selflessly of his time and talents, something not many do these days. “He led by example. He will be forever missed, but always remembered; he was Oyster Bay’s “other TR.

“He was also a wonderful neighbor. He looked out for my mom after my dad passed away. He was the first to snow-blow her driveway, and would call me if he thought something was not right with her,” said Ms. DeVine.