Thomas Cooper Sherman, 75, was set free from his five-year battle with Alzheimer’s on August 27, 2020.
Anyone who knew Tom can attest to his unique ability to make a room erupt with laughter. It was a common occurrence for him to make people standing near him belly laugh as he mumbled something quietly while the rest of the room carried on unknowingly. He was the one at the conservative family game night who, when asked to fill in “Better late than (blank)” with something other than “never”, immediately blurted out “pregnant”. His humor was never vulgar or offensive, but brought people together and always made any room a warmer, more welcoming place to be. The trauma of facing an Alzheimer’s diagnosis didn’t stop his humor from replying to “How are you?” with a knowing smirk and eyebrow raise before exclaiming “I don’t know; I don’t remember!”
He was naturally a grateful person, valued the quality of the relationships he kept, and loved people unconditionally. He was admired by everyone who knew him.
Tom was born the baby of the family on October 1, 1944, in Boston, Massachusetts. He spent most of his childhood making his older sister, Ann “Taff”, get in trouble for bursting into laughter at the dinner table following secret knowing looks between them, and walking with his brother, John “Malt”, down to the corner ice cream shop with two quarters in his pocket. His favorite place was Nantasket Beach, where he loved steamed clams and fresh corn on the cob. His dad and he would walk the beaches to collect fresh lobster stranded in the small ponds after storms subsided.
At six years old, his family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio. His school years were filled with mostly-innocent horseplay, which made for hysterical stories to anyone who heard them recounted from the honest, kind, responsible, rule-following adult Tom. There were many tales of shenanigans with his friends, including accidentally letting a chair fall three stories out of the classroom window. On one occasion, a teacher actually tied Tom’s hands to a chair and left him in the coat closet as punishment for one of these atrocious acts, in which he smuggled himself out, left the school, and walked all the way home.
He became the best of friends with six boys whom he kept in touch with most of his life. They called themselves “The Mighty 7”. They had lots of freedom after school and often stayed out until dark. They scrounged at the dump and walked along the railroad tracks to collect used glass bottles. If they were lucky, the grocery would pay them $0.35, which they exchanged for three candy bars. Years later, at 18, The Mighty Seven took a trip to Chicago and each had a “7” tattooed on their ankle.
In 1962, he started college at the University of Cincinnati but transferred to the University of Arizona in Tucson so that he could be near his “7” group the following year. Rumor has it, they may have done more partying than studying.
At 21 years old, Tom’s degree was put on hold when he enlisted in the Army and was called to serve as a medic during the Vietnam War. During his three years abroad, he took food to starving local women and children in the evenings and had dinner with them on the concrete floors of their homes among the rubble of the war. It took him many years to talk about his time in Vietnam, but his stories of trauma, heroism, heartache, and perseverance were spoken about widely, albeit painfully, in his last years. What he learned in the Army about human connection, loyalty, and having purpose, he said, was one of the greatest gifts in his life.
Upon his return from the war, he moved back to Ohio to complete his Bachelor's degree in Bio Chemistry at the University of Cincinnati, followed by a Master's degree in Microbiology. He worked at the VA Hospital while earning these degrees, then received honorable discharge from the Army in 1972.
In 1970, he met Renee Parker through a mutual friend and they married the following year. They spent their first years of marriage hiking in the Smoky Mountains with friends, traveling through Africa with Tom’s sister who lived there, buying a fixer-upper and remodeling it themselves, and finding a favorite home in Wyoming, Ohio, where they would start a family.
In 1978, their daughter Brooke Lauren was born, and when she was about three months old and healthy enough to be adopted, Tom and Renee brought her home and promised to love her, guide her, teach her, and eventually let her fly when she was ready. Tom took this oath as possibly the most important thing he’d ever do, and he committed to it every day of his life.
In 1981, their son, Jordan “Jordie” Marshall was born and immediately adopted, completing their family. Throughout their childhood, you would often find Tom throwing a ball in the front yard, helping with homework, building sets for themed birthday parties, doing cannonballs into the pool, and coaching numerous t-ball and soccer teams. He once turned a pile of wood into an intricate, detailed red race car bed for his car-loving son.
A new job brought the family to Evansville, Indiana, where they spent 26 years and raised their kids. During these years, Tom would work full time in quality assurance for Bristol Myers (Mead Johnson) with many people he respected and enjoyed, while never missing school talent shows, science fairs, piano and violin recitals, Jordie’s travel soccer and hockey tournaments, Brooke’s track meets and soccer games, even attending high school basketball games just to see his daughter’s dance team perform at half time.
Tom’s creative, artistic talent and attention to detail were often utilized in personal undertakings, from drawing intricate maps for neighborhood scavenger hunts, inspiring ideas for the Hebron Elementary “Invention Convention”, to carving creative unconventional pumpkins for Halloween. He designed and built a tree house from scratch in the backyard by the apple tree where his children spent hours forming secret clubhouse rules with the neighborhood kids. He often pitched their big blue and yellow tent for campouts in the backyard where he would tell long, intricate stories of a little girl and little boy who slept in a tent and flew up into the sky, landing in Candyland, where they drank from the chocolate fountains and ate flowers made of marshmallows. Tom’s grandkids now hear the same stories at bedtime on special nights.
Tom figured out how to overcome hardships by moving through the world with grace and compassion, always seeking to become wiser through adversity. He believed that feeling sorry for yourself was important, just for a day, before getting up and dusting yourself off and making the most of what you had. He instilled this in his children, leading by his example.
When massive corporate layoffs took his job at Bristol Myers in 1991, he took on what he knew would be a temporary job to pay the bills while he searched his soul for what his next career step might be.
At the age of 50, he enrolled in quality education courses to become a Board-Approved Certified Financial Planner. Passionately committed to this brand-new career, he was the only student in his entire class who completed the rigorous course and obtained his certification. While becoming professionally knowledgeable about investments and retirement accounts, he had a realization that the corporate benefits of his previous job at Bristol Myers were phenomenal, and he was certain many employees getting these benefits weren’t aware they existed or fully understood them. He brought cookies to the security guard of his old office building, who let him into the HR department to present an idea. Tom started hosting free seminars to teach employees what benefits were available to them and how to maximize them.
With the heart of a teacher and the integrity of someone who was more interested in his clients' well-being than making profits, he made a living truly helping people grow their investments and plan for retirement. People, not surprisingly, flocked to him. He worked late nights and early mornings, growing a huge financial planning business in a very short time. He often said that he wished he could have started this fulfilling career many years earlier, but that the life experience he had earned going into this calling was ultimately what made him successful.
In 2007, when his first grandchild arrived, he declared living near her the most important place to be. He sold his business to his partners, retired, and moved ten minutes down the street from his daughter and son-in-law, Dan. He and his wife spent all of the last years of Tom’s life in Fishers, Indiana, where Tom could be found on the sidelines of Samantha, Natalie, and Holly’s soccer games, coloring with them, doing “uppies” where he’d toss them high in the air and catch them, sledding down snow-filled hills at the park in the winter, designing scavenger hunts outside in the summer, taking them to dance class or gymnastics, building playsets with Dan in the backyard, and babysitting them every single Tuesday of their lives from the time they were walking until they started kindergarten. Once he was invited by his then 7-year old granddaughter, Natalie, to attend a dinner she would be proudly making completely by herself: pancakes. When Tom arrived, he had made a chef’s hat out of paper for her to wear; along the sides he had written in fancy lettering, “Chef Natalie”.
For Father’s Day in 2013, Tom’s daughter, Brooke, wrote a post to honor him.
When I was born my biological mother gave me up and I went to a home until I was healthy enough to be adopted. My parents selflessly adopted me and brought me home when I was three months old. I suppose some others may have carried resentment about being "given away". Not me. Not at ALL.
My dad always made me feel like I was special. More special than a "normal" kid. Like the entire universe had existed to bring me into this world and land softly in his arms. Like I was the best thing that had ever happened to him. He's really good at making people feel important. I think it's because he actually thinks people ARE important.
He's the dad I'd walk down the street (as far as I was allowed) to excitedly wait for his car to come down the street from work every day. The dad who made me write my goals on a notecard every New Year and hang it on the fridge from a very early age on. He taught me that it's okay to cry, be sad, and feel sorry for yourself when needed - as long as the next day you got back on your feet, stronger than the day before. When he had to miss my fifth grade play he had roses sent to the dressing room. I'll never forget how surprised the teachers were when they arrived and how loved it made me feel.
He used to make homemade chocolate chip cookies and send them to my college dorm room. While everyone else went out for coffee after being told it could be hours until his first grandchild arrived, he stood right outside the hospital room door waiting patiently, worried, and excited, deeming coffee far less important than being as close as possible just in case that baby came earlier than expected.
We've shared so many laughs, trips, memories, and there are just no worthy-enough words to thank my dad for all that he has given and continues to give to make my life - and this world - a better place. A special place. I love you so much, Dad!!! Happy Father's Day!!!!
When Tom read this post, in the same way he was modest about everything in his life, he simply responded, “Really? I did all that?” Hours later, Brooke picked up her kids from daycare and walked into her house. On the counter sat a dozen beautiful red roses in a clear glass vase. Next to them was a box, carefully and thoughtfully wrapped in shipping paper, resembling what a mailed package in her college days may have looked like. Her old dorm address was written across the front and her parents’ old address in the top left corner. The paper was artistically worn to make it look old. There was a hand-drawn portrayal of a postage stamp displayed in the top right corner. She lifted the wrapping off carefully to find a tin full of homemade chocolate chip cookies inside. She smiled as she opened the enclosed note. In her dad’s handwriting it read “Loving you has been the greatest honor of my life.”
At least a month out of every year during retirement, Tom and Renee traveled to Florida to spend time with their son, Jordie, daughter-in-law Ashley, and more recently, their newest granddaughter, Taylor. Tom enjoyed discovering and experiencing all of the things that brought joy to their lives, attending Tampa Bay Lightning hockey games, watching Reds baseball, dining at local pubs, and riding the roller coasters at Busch Gardens. More than anything, he just liked being around his kids and their lives.
When Tom wasn’t with his grandkids, you could find him restoring, building, or refinishing something. During his retirement, he restored a vintage Vespa motor scooter and a Volkswagen Beetle car. He finished their unfinished 1200 square foot basement by sawing framing boards by hand, hanging drywall, lights, and bathroom fixtures. He loved scrounging at flea markets and auctions to find items he could refurbish. He would take the leftover little scraps of wood from his projects and turn them into tiny detailed houses that would fit in the palm of your hand, painting his grandkids’ favorite cartoon characters on them, and leaving them around for the girls to find.
He wrote, cast, and directed two comedic plays for the community New Year’s Eve party, which Renee played a part in each. He enjoyed learning how to bake, and after receiving a bread machine for Christmas one year, perfected a soft pretzel recipe. It was always a good day when he showed up to deliver a batch to his kids and grandkids. He liked trying new and quirky things; we once laughed as we tried the jalapeño chocolate chip cookies he baked. He loved bicycle rides, claiming to have ridden thirty miles one day, although his wife questions the accuracy of his counting. He loved going on walks, being on the golf course, playing euchre, and solving puzzles.
Tom had the heart of a servant and always took care of anyone who needed him without hesitation. Once his college-aged kid forgot to bring a bag of school books back to the university, which was a four-hour drive away, so he drove to his office late at night to scan and email copies of all of the most urgent and necessary pages until he could ship the rest. (That was before smart phones existed.)
After moving into a new house, Brooke frantically called her dad to shriek about a wild chipmunk running through their living room. Ten minutes later, she opened the door to find him standing on the front porch chuckling, with gloves on, wearing a football helmet, and holding a rake. She burst out laughing as he said, “Let’s catch this thing.”
He once jumped out of bed to pick up a 4:30am phone call, eager to help when his daughter asked him to drive to her house, find her marriage certificate, then drive to the copy center to fax it to the Chicago airport where she had realized her passport was in her maiden name and didn’t match her airline ticket for an important business trip. He somehow made people feel like these acts of patience and kindness were a gift to him. He was always just happy to be around.
You could often find him in the landscape of Dan and Brooke’s photography studio pulling weeds (once Brooke arrived while he was using a garden hoe to break up a dirt pile; as soon as he saw her he exclaimed “Don’t tell your mom I was out with a hoe all day!”). He enjoyed mowing their grass, laying new mulch, and watering trees. He probably didn’t enjoy the actual work as much as he relished contributing to the lives of the people he loved. He was always the one we called when anyone had a flat tire or a car that required a jump start, even late at night in the middle of winter. And he always arrived with a smile and a joke. He could always be counted on to help plant gardens, install new wood floors, jackhammer concrete, dig holes for a backyard fence, fix drywall, hang lights, or put in a new toilet. He and his son-in-law, Dan, planted twenty-seven large trees in Dan's yard one summer. At any gathering, you could find him in the kitchen doing the dishes. He said he liked doing the dishes; it was an easy problem that he could see, resolve, and bring the host a little joy.
While picking up his grandkids from school one day, Tom noticed the lost and found piles overflowing and seemingly untouched near the front desk. He had an idea and asked to speak to the principal. After a friendly discussion, the school started making more aggressive “last call” announcements to parents about picking up items before a new deadline. Tom then came to collect everything left, pile it in the back of his SUV, and deliver the items to local kids in need. After he started doing this at his grandkids’ school, he called the 13 other elementary schools in the district and asked if he could do the same for them.
He considered his family the most treasured gift in his life. He never wanted any material things, but asked one Christmas for a list of our favorite albums and artists so that he could download the songs and listen to the music we loved. He wasn’t one to save much of anything material; now that he is gone, his wife cannot even find things like the paper certificates of his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. He found saving “stuff” unnecessary and threw most of it out.
After Tom’s passing, Renee did find one small box in his “man cave” work room in the basement. It had notes and cards that his kids and grandkids had given him over the years. He saved the label of a bottle of wine from a celebration of his daughter’s engagement and wrote the highlights of the evening on it, saved the score card from a memorable game of golf, the ticket stub of a concert he had gone to with his children, letters his kids had sent from Purdue 20 years ago after they had gone to college, and printed copies of emails between them.
Resting on the top of the pile of notes and memories sat a piece of paper, simply with a typedquote from Maya Angelou on it. Nobody knows or remembers where it came from. But certainly, it embodies the way Tom navigated the world during his time here.
“I’ve learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow. I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he or she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights. I’ve learned that regardless of your relationship with your parents, you’ll miss them when they’re gone. I’ve learned that making a “living” is not the same as making a “life”. I’ve learned that life sometimes gives you a second chance. I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back. I’ve learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart, I usually make the right decision. I’ve learned that even when I have pains, I don’t have to be one. I’ve learned that everyday you should reach out and touch someone. People love a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back. I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn. I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Tom made people feel valued, loved, respected, and welcome. He taught us how to love deeper, embrace opportunities for growth, dig in fully to things we're passionate about, and to not waste a minute of this lifetime. He led by humble example, and made us all believe that anything is possible, even in his last moments on earth.
Tom was adamant he didn’t want a funeral. In many conversations with him over the years, we would laugh and say “You do know that the funeral isn’t for you, right? It’s for all of us...”
His response to that was, “If I somehow touched your life, if I live in your heart, then use that and find a way to do something worthwhile with it. Make me live on through you in a meaningful way. That’s what I want.”
He wanted his body cremated and to become one with the nature of the earth, which he refused to be more specific about and said we would figure it out. It seems Tom is not quite done traveling the world.
May his presence be felt in the mountains of the trails he hiked with his brother and sister out west.
May he and his dad smile as a lobster is caught in the puddles of Nantasket Beach.
May a cocktail be made in his honor as his family toasts to his memory in Atlanta.
May he be felt in the breeze of the Smoky Mountains trails with his wife.
May he sail over the crystal-clear waters of a cruise ship with his son.
May his arms stretch out through the branches as he grows into an overseeing tree in his daughter’s yard.
May he not only be found in the mountains and the oceans, but may he always be found in the souls of the people he loved and in the actions of all he inspired.
Alzheimer’s disease is very overwhelming and painstaking journey. Tom and his family found an incredible amount of support and care through The Alzheimer's Association Greater Indiana Chapter. Compassionate one-on-one counselors, group therapy meetings, educational classes, home inspections to provide safety assistance, resources, guidance, and a 24-hour helpline are services completely free of charge to all families facing this disease through this amazing organization. The Alzheimer’s Association is run entirely on donations. Their mission is to eliminate Alzheimer's disease through the advancement of research and to provide enhanced care and support for all affected. If you are inspired to donate in honor of Tom Sherman, or if you need help navigating through the Alzheimer’s experience, we highly recommend this incredible organization. https://www.alz.org/indiana/donate
Tom is survived by his wife Renee Sherman (Fishers, IN) who will miss laughing hard with him at the things they found funny, daughter Brooke, son-in-law Dan, and granddaughters Samantha, Natalie, and Holly Brand (Fishers, IN) who will miss finding his “love notes” tucked in corners around the house after mowing their lawn, son Jordan, daughter-in-law Ashley, and granddaughter Taylor Sherman (Dunedin, FL) who will miss his perspective and the little quirkiness he added when talking about sports while trying new ways to cook a turkey with them every Thanksgiving, sister Ann Bassarab (Atlanta, GA) who will dearly miss the warmth he brought into the room as soon as he entered and all the ways he took care of her, brother John Sherman (Las Vegas, NV) who will miss hearing his laugh on the other end of the phone, and many extended family members, business partners, neighbors, and friends who will miss him for so many, many reasons.