The Eulogy for Tom Zibura
Tom Zibura was born December 8, 1951, the first child born to his parents. They lived together on the second floor of a two-family house in Garfield, with Tom’s grandmother residing on the third floor. Tom’s uncle and his family lived on the first floor.
In 1958, when Tommy was seven the downstairs uncle and his family moved out, a family moved in with whom a life-long friendship would be established. The family consisted of Muriel and her husband Ray, and their eight year old daughter Judy.
To this day Judy can remember the first time she laid eyes on Tommy. He was wearing his little pajamas looking down the stairs through the rails excitedly waving and calling out, “Hi! Hi!” Tommy and Judy soon became like brother and sister. Judy’s family had a cat that scared Tommy, so they would do most of their playing either upstairs on Tommy’s floor, or down in the basement.
Judy has so many happy memories of playing “clubhouse,” or “store,” or “school.” Although a year younger than Judy, Tommy always needed to be the one who set up the rules. When he grew up, Tommy said, he wanted to be a garbage man, or a paper boy. He was amazed by the way paper boys would tightly fold their papers in such a way that they could fling them from their bicycles, and would practice the same with newspaper fliers in his home.
Judy remembers how excited little Tommy would get on Christmas Eve as they listened to the reports on the radio of sightings of Santa Claus. When at 5 o’clock Santa was spotted nearby in Newark, Tommy would run upstairs to hop in bed where every good boy or girl is supposed to be when Santa arrives at their house.
At school Tommy was known to be particularly well-mannered. At the grammar school he attended, boys had always been required to wear ties until one day, during class it was announced that the rule had been changed, and they no longer needed to wear ties. The teacher told his mother that Tommy was the only boy in the class who didn’t immediately rip off his tie.
The same year Judy, Muriel, and Ray moved into the house, Tommy’s brother Jeffrey was born. With all the attention that a baby brother requires, it must have been particularly timely to have Judy there to play with.
Donna came along two years later. Tommy was a wonderful big brother to his little brother and sister. At Easter time he played the part of the Easter bunny, hiding the eggs for them to find. They’d play school together, with Tommy being the teacher, giving them lessons and grading papers. He would devise all kinds of games for his brothers and sister to play, often variations of “beat the clock.” He taught them wiffle ball and pinnacle. Later the family acquired a ping pong table and a pool table.
Tommy always loved fun and games.
There were lots of aunts and uncles and cousins who would often gather upstairs for family parties, and Judy would be jealous of Tommy that he got to stay up to midnight eating cake and drinking coffee.
Tommy had a gift for music, and at age 8 began playing the accordion. He learned to play old classic songs by heart — the song Misty was a particular favorite, and various polkas. The music he made would carry out through the open windows in summer time, attracting neighbors to the house to listen to Tommy play.
Tommy’s father was a very hard-working man – a welder who worked nights, and often took part time jobs as well, so unfortunately he often wasn’t available in the day to do things with his son. Judy’s father Ray saw in Tommy the son he’d always wanted and became for Tommy a sort of second father. Across the street connected to a factory was a vacant lot where Ray would take Tommy for hours on end to play waffle ball.
Ray would take all the kids: Tommy, Judy, Jeffrey and Donna out for trips for lemon ice, a special treat. He’d take them to the Trampoline Park, or to get pizza. One time Ray was so preoccupied with getting all the kids safely in the car that he forgot the pizza he’d left on the top of the car, and somebody had to tell him, “Hey, buddy, you got a pizza on your roof!”
The family remembers regular summer trips to Wildwood Crests, and a special trip up to Canada to see Niagara Falls.
In high school Tommy entered music competitions with accordion and won prizes. He occasionally would get gigs to play providing entertainment at parties and restaurants, and considered the possibility of making career in music.
Tommy graduated high school from Garfield High in 1969. He held a job for a while at a chemicals factory. The year after he graduated, the family, including his grandmother, moved from Garfield to what for them was the country, buying the house in Lake Hiawatha that Tommy would call home for the rest of his life. At the same time Ray, Muriel and Judy also moved to Lake Hiawatha, just five blocks away, so their family-like friendships could continue.
Tommy took a job with Dell, where there was a bowling league sponsored by the company, with which he quickly got involved. In 1972 he took a job with the Post Office in Newark, where he would work for the next 35 years, moving up to supervisor. It was at the Post Office that Tommy became friends with Jimmy Keane, who would remain one of Tommy’s closest friends for the rest of his life, often coming out to the house to lounge around the pool with Tommy and his family.
Although Tommy left Dell, he continued to bowl in their league, serving as the league secretary for 35 years. In this capacity, Tommy pretty much kept everything running, arranging banquets, ordering prizes, giving out awards, recruiting players, and calming down disgruntled bowlers. Tommy worked together with his good friend Connie Whitney, who served as league Treasurer, and together they kept the league going, making it possible for hundreds and hundreds of bowlers to have a place to go one night a week where they could leave their troubles behind, have fun, and make friends. Over the years in the bowling league Tommy touched countless lives, and made many, many friends.
Tommy’s father died suddenly of a heart attack while at work in 1976, breaking everybody’s heart in the family.
A few years later Tommy’s mother met Lee, and who has remained a member of the family right up to this day.
When it came to meeting girls, Tommy was kind of shy, so it took him a while to meet the woman of his dreams, but he finally did when at the age of 31 he met Georgia, and it was worth the wait. Georgia was charmed by his good looks and the warmth of his personality. He romanced her by bringing her flowers. Tommy would visit her where she worked at Burger King, and Georgia would sneak him free food to take home to his sister Donna.
Tom and Georgia were married in 1984 by Rev. Glenn Purcell, the pastor of our church at the time, turning to him because it was in this same Methodist Church that Georgia’s parents had been married in many years earlier. Tommy and Georgia honeymooned in Florida.
It took Georgia 13 years to get pregnant, but that, too was worth the wait. The birth of Michael was the happiest day of their lives. I was privileged to baptize Michael, and remember clearly their great delight in their son. Jeffrey and Donna were pleased to be Michael’s Godparents.
Every summer Tommy would take two weeks of vacation that would coincide with his wedding anniversary with Georgia. For two weeks they would lounge around the pool in the back yard, make trips to Point Pleasant and Atlantic City.
They made three trips to Florida in autumn to visit Donna and Jeffrey and his kids, Joey and Lilly, where they would all go to Disney World, and try to coax Tommy on to the fast rides which he hated.
With the exception perhaps of those high speed rides at the amusement parks, Tommy never wanted to miss out on anything good that was there to be shared with the people he loved. At times he could be a bit annoying with his insistence that nobody start something fun without him. Back in his childhood, Judy made a point once of defying his commands in this regard, going out into yard with a friend when the first snow had fallen — before Tommy could get there — where they taunted him by trampling the words, “Ha, Ha!” in the snow.
Tommy was insistent that he be there with the people he loved when it was time to enter the pool. He had a ritual he shared with Michael whereby they would count together, “Uno, dos, tres” all the way to ten, making their way into the water. Along the way, Tommy would always make his trademark shrieks as his body took its sweet time adjusting to the cold of the water.
The backyard was the sight of countless happy times Tommy shared with his Georgia and Michael, with Donna and Jeffrey and the kids when they were visiting, with Lee and his mother before she died, and with Jimmy, and Judy and Muriel, and with his next door neighbors, Ross and Loraine.
Tommy was a hard worker, but one of his most endearing qualities was the way in which in his down time the kid in him would come out full force. He always loved fun and games. He loved playing volley ball in the pool, and around the table: pinnacle, Farkle and Aggravation.
He was the nicest guy you could ever meet, but… he didn’t like to lose. If you beat Tommy at one of the games he enjoyed playing, you might just find yourself threatened with being banned from his swimming pool.
He didn’t like to lose, but he rooted passionately all his life for the Mets, which meant his loyalty was most often disappointed. In football he became a fan of the Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs way back in their AFL years, and these were another two teams for whom championships were rare if non-existent. With Tommy in heaven bringing his influence to bear, if you’re a betting man, you might seriously consider putting your money this coming season on the Bills or the Chiefs.
Early on Tom passed on his love of bowling to his son, and eventually the student’s ability to bowl rivaled that of his teacher. The pride Tommy felt in his son, made this one arena where he didn’t mind losing.
Four years ago Tommy retired from the Post Office after 35 years of service. He worked for two years in the mail room at Morristown Memorial, and then two years in the same capacity for Avis. Where ever he went people just naturally took a liking to him. He was that kind of guy.
There was a tenderness to Tommy — a sensitivity that was extraordinary.
He was a life-long fan of Frankie Valli, having gone with Georgia numerous times to see him perform. His favorite song was “Rag Doll,” a song about recognizing the beauty in a young woman that others cruelly make fun of. It says something about the compassion of Tommy’s heart. He was loving and caring, kind to all.
He loved Christmas, enjoying finding the perfect tree, and putting up the decorations.
Tommy had a special connection with his mother, and grieved deeply with Lee when she died in 2006.
With his sensitive nature, some of you who loved Tommy best wondered how he would hold up when the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer was given to him back in November of 2011. In the midst of this great battle, he revealed an extraordinary strength and courage. When his brother and sister arrived for Christmas shortly after the news of the diagnosis, they were surprised to find the house from top to bottom with lights, just like always.
Tommy fought hard to be cured. He amazed his doctors with how well he was doing. Through a year and a half of cancer treatments, Tommy continued to go to work everyday. He didn’t want to sit around; as always, he didn’t want to miss out on life.
He fought the good fight, holding on to hope well beyond the point many others would have given up.
Tommy told me of a dream he had one night, at what would have been perhaps six weeks before he died. He said that in the dream there was a large table around which were gathered his mother and father, and all of his other relatives that had preceded him in death. He said there was one empty seat at the table, and he realized that this seat was for him. The dream disturbed him because he still wanted to fight for life.
But as the days passed, Tommy continued to get weaker and weaker. He began to accept the fact that the time was drawing near for him to stop fighting, and to go and join his mother and his father and the others who loved him on the other side.
I spent a good deal of time with Tommy in the last couple of weeks, and was really blessed by getting to know him as he lived his last days on earth. I suggested to him a few days before he died that perhaps he would like to dictate a letter to me to be given to his son after his death. He liked the idea, and said he wanted to spend some time thinking about what it was he would want to say. A few hours before Tommy died, I had about twenty minutes alone with him, and grabbing a piece paper close at hand, I scribbled down a short letter that Tom with the little strength he had left told me to write down.
He died about ten o’clock that night, on his mother’s birthday — a present for his mother, whom Tommy loved so. That night the Mets — who rarely win – had a surprising win, getting a strong game from one of their worst pitchers, and beating a much better pitcher on the other team. Just a coincidence I supposed, but a nod of respect nonetheless to this life-long Mets fan.
Shortly after Tommy’s death, Georgia smelled the scent of flowers in his hospital room, but there were no flowers there. The same thing happened two nights ago at their home, and this time Donna smelled the flowers as well. The fragrance sent from heaven to reassure them that Tommy – who always gave his wife flowers on Valentine’s Day — had arrived safely home, and that his love has not come to an end.