For Tom Jordan (1945-2009)
My wife and I have a small, embroidered pillow hanging on the wall of our bedroom. It says, "The Best is Yet to Come." It was given to me while I was being treated for cancer more than five years ago by a man who was the soul of optimism, and I've treasured it ever since.
Tom Jordan didn't have the same opportunity to ponder his mortality that I had then. He slipped on the ice and hit his head on the pavement early Sunday morning as he and his wife returned home from dinner at a friend's place.
His life ended suddenly at the age of 63.
More than anything, Tom loved to talk. His favorite word was "vivid." He told wonderfully vivid stories about growing up in Ypsilanti, Mich., the son of a university professor. During the Vietnam war, he served in the U.S. Army in Europe as an actor, performing for troops all over Europe. In the Netherlands, he met Charlotte, the nurse who would become his wife. He embraced his European family and learned to speak Dutch.
Tom earned a Ph.D. in English at Texas A&M. He became disillusioned with academic politics and took a job reviewing movies for a TV station in Dallas. During that time, he fell in love with Utah's mountains and decided to move here in the mid-90s.
In 1997, I became the local news bureau chief for Metro Networks, a nationwide company that provides custom news and traffic reports for radio stations. I asked Tom to join us in the Salt Lake City bureau. He took to radio news like he'd done it all his life. He became a fixture at news events, the gray-haired, gregarious guy who'd talk your leg off if you gave him a chance.
I sat at a desk next to his for most of the four years I worked for Metro. I discovered he could keep a cooler head than mine in a crisis, as when a tornado hit downtown Salt Lake City in 1999. Then especially on Sept. 11, 2001, when Metro provided news for many stations that weren't even our clients. When I left Metro shortly afterward, he took over as bureau chief and held that position for the next seven years.
It's likely you've never heard Tom Jordan's name mentioned on the air, but it's all but certain you've heard his work on the stations that subscribed to Metro's news reports. Until recently, they included KUER. We dropped our affiliation after Metro laid him off last fall. Corporate bean-counters have determined that Salt Lake City news is best reported from Phoenix and that its staff in Los Angeles can provide traffic reports for Salt Lake City. Pardon me if I'm skeptical.
All I've done until now, though, is to give you his resume. What I wish I could do is to share his joyful laugh, his compassion, his generosity, incisive intellect and exquisite wit. Tom was not a religious man, but he had an open heart and a sense of the spiritual to match anyone I ever knew. (He once told me that I was "full of religion." Thanks to Tom, I've known ever since what I'm full of.)
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As much as anyone I've ever known, Tom was like Nathaniel in the New Testament — a man in whom there was no guile.
Tom was the answer to everyone who ever believed that reporters are nothing but jaded cynics. He would listen to anybody. He thought carefully about what he heard and changed his mind when the argument was persuasive.
Charlotte, Alison, Tim, I share your loss. I will miss him. At a time like this, it's hard to look at his gift and believe the best is yet to come. But I know Tom believed it.
To honor his memory, I'll try to believe it, too.
Dan Bammes is with KUER Radio.