Left to right: Lunder staff members Betsy Cole, Tom Kopp, Carolyn Plant, Jamie Brewster, at the wedding of our colleagues KC Ford and Matt Russ, Cape Rosier, Maine on June 16, 2007, a very happy day indeed.
Over the weekend, our colleague Tom Kopp died in a boating accident on Great Pond, and the world is a dimmer place. I don’t even know how to begin to describe this loss to those who didn’t know Tom. He had enormous heart and was selfless beyond measure in his relationships with family, friends, colleagues, students and everyone else with whom he came into contact. Unfortunately this makes Tom sound like a saint, and in a way he was, but he also had this endearing goofball quality that is making us laugh through our tears.
Tom was the guy who didn’t question the job; he just did it, whether it meant making the coffee, greeting the fifth family through the door in as many minutes, making the toughest admissions decision, shoveling the walk, delivering bad news to a counselor, or sneaking the eight-foot overgrown cactus out of the Dean’s office and performing a radical pruning. He was the guy who hung the bulletin board in your office, and then hid your shoes behind your door so you thought you were losing your mind. An incredibly active and athletic guy, he handled the torture of long, drawn-out staff meetings by creating elaborate doodles all over the pad of paper in front of him, although from across the table it appeared that he was taking meticulous notes. He had been at Colby for nearly thirty years and had encyclopedic institutional memory. I went to him with questions about travel, about working with special students, about how to deal with a demanding family, and about our arcane database system; he wasn’t a computer whiz by any means, but he found ways to make things work and he shared them gladly.
Tom built things: community in the office, relationships across the campus, and a stunning island camp on Great Pond. The latter was an amazing project involving disassembling a barn, ferrying the pieces out to the island, and reassembling them. He built a stupendous field stone fireplace out of rocks he had collected on his travels both in Maine and elsewhere; he and I shared an appreciation of rocks, and I brought them to him on my own travels from Matinicus to South Africa. The gorgeous camp floor was the old gym floor that he salvaged from the college’s athletic center.
Tom could be grumpy and his occasional outbursts were like a thunderstorm on a hot day: they cleared the air and everything looked better afterwards. He practiced safety and caution, and could always see his way out of trouble (this is why his death in this way is so ironic). But he will always be best remembered for his whacky humor. The last time I saw Tom was on Halloween at our weekly staff meeting, wearing a trench coat, porkpie hat, and Groucho glasses.
Yesterday, condolences poured into our office from all over campus, and from friends and colleagues near and far who understood the enormity of the loss to the Lunder House family. Tom and his wife Mimi raised four very successful children and have sixteen grandchildren. In his office is a photo of this large and happy clan on a street in China Town last fall. Losing Tom is heartbreaking to one and all.
This tragedy has brought home a lesson that, deep down, I already knew: I want to be like Tom. I want to get the job done, and I want to laugh whenever it’s appropriate in the process (and maybe sometimes when it’s not so appropriate). I want to enjoy my family, cook good food, and play with the dog. I want to get into better shape, and maybe collect a few more rocks in the process. I want to be remembered as someone with heart.