Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Feet Under Our Table

Last week I shared a bit about my husband Tom and how losing him has impacted me. In a couple of weeks it will have been five years. 

Tom was a good man. He cared about others. Always. 

When Tom was seventeen years old, he pulled a man from the deep water of the lake where he lived in Florida and breathed new life back into him. 

The night he asked me to marry him, we drove from my house to tell his parents.  Someone was stranded on a country road. Tom stopped to help.

He was always like that. Always looking out for other people. Always caring. It was something that made me love him all the more.

But he had this one thing. 

It was not unusual 
for Tom to invite people
over for dinner.
It was not unusual for Tom to come home from work and tell me about someone who was visiting his branch of NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health).

“He’s in the city for a few days and alone,” he’d say. “So I invited him over for dinner tonight. I hope it’s okay.”And it was.

 “They’re in town for a training session and don’t know anyone,” he’d tell me. “So I invited them over for dinner tomorrow night. I hope it’s okay.”And it was.

“He and his family just moved here from Taiwan, [Finland, South Korea, Hong Kong, India, China, or some other part of the world] and they don’t know anyone, so I invited them over for dinner tomorrow night. I hope it’s okay.” It was. Of course he frequently followed up with “I don’t know if they speak English or not.” It was still okay. 

Tom cared about people. He always looked out for their wellbeing. As a result, people from all over the United States and from all over the world have put their feet under our table. From the head of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) all the way down to college students studying engineering and everyone in between. Tom was always bringing people to our house for a home cooked meal and an evening of conversation.

It wasn’t only at work. If Tom sensed someone was alone or broken, he reached out.  Tom cared about others, but never to the exclusion of his family. He was well loved because he loved well.

Tom died on October 29, 2014. It was a Wednesday. We held his services the following week to allow travel time for our family and friends from out of town. The night of his visitation a thousand people filed past Tom’s casket and greeted me, then Tom’s brothers, and then our three daughters on the other side. They offered words of comfort, hugs, and expressions of the sorrow they felt for this loss. 

Two of those coming through the line stand out to me even today.

The first was a homeless man we had befriended through church. Warren had cleaned up nicely and found his way to the church building. He had long gray hair and wore a rather ill fitting sports coat he had borrowed for the occasion. He was short so the sleeves were a bit too long.

Yes, That Little Guy is Tom
With His Two Older Brothers
As Warren walked through the line, I introduced him to Tom’s two older brothers standing beside me. Warren thrust out his hand and shook their hands heartily. 

“You’re brother was a good man,” he told them with tears in his eyes. “He always treated everybody the same. He was always good to me. He was a friend.”

A few more people passed through before Bill Marras, a fellow researcher in Tom’s field, approached. Bill is tall in stature and clean cut. He, too, has long gray hair. His coat fit. Bill had waited for nearly four hours to reach us and when I introduced him to Tom’s brothers his words were nearly the same. 

Bill shook hands with Ron and Rick and said, “You’re brother was a good man. He always treated everybody the same. We worked together, but more than that, he was a friend.”

When we returned to the house that evening, my brothers-in-law asked me about the two men. All I could tell them is that both men were right. Tom was a good man. And the fact that a homeless man and a renowned researcher stated the same things about him demonstrated that Tom did indeed treat everybody the same.

I’ve been working to memorize the twelfth chapter of the book of Romans. It is a description of how we are to live our lives. Phrases from the chapter pop out at me. Words like “share with God’s people who are in need,” or “practice hospitality,” and “be willing to associate with people of low position.” There’s more there. Much more that describes the man I married. 

I married a good man.

Last week I shared that the CDC Foundation has a scholarship in Tom’s name. The Thomas R. Waters Memorial Scholarship for Ergonomics Research. We are working hard to raise the monies to make that an endowed scholarship that lives on. It is not too late to donate. So, yes, I’m asking. I’ve provided links below. The first allows for online giving and the second is if you want to mail a contribution in to the foundation. 

Since October is National Ergonomics Month, the deadline for this campaign has been extended to the end of the month. Monies can always be donated but up to $15,000.00 received this month will be matched dollar for dollar. 

All I can offer is “Thank you.” So I thank you ahead of time for your generosity.

CLICK FOR A FORM TO DONATE BY MAIL (or simply use the address on the form and write "Thomas R. Waters Memorial Scholarship" in the memo line on your check)


  1. My condolences. Tom sounds like he was a wonderful person.


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