In advertising, the word “big” often comes up. Big trucks, big taste, big service, big impact. The only things we don’t want big, it seems, are our asses and glasses.
Sure, “big” is overused. But sometimes it just works.
It certainly worked when someone gave Tom Fitzgerald his legendary moniker.
This morning, just a short time after Big Tom died of heart failure at the age of 39, this message appeared on K-Rock’s website:
“We’d like to thank Tom Fitzgerald for helping the word ‘BIG’. Before Tommy, Big was just another word. A word they’d put in front of ‘deal’ or ‘savings’. Tom quickly owned that word. He was larger than life. The irony of Tom’s passing being linked to his heart isn’t lost on anyone. He was truly full of love and he shared it with all of us.”
The funny thing about the word big is – it only works when it’s true.
With Tom, it was very true.
And I’m not talking about his physical presence, although he did have a jolly stature that just begged to be bear-hugged.
I’m talking about his personality. On the radio. And off the radio. Big Tom was Big Tom, always. I didn’t even know the guy, and yet I did. We all did. His voice was distinct. His laugh was earth-quaking. He was fun. Big fun.
Fun gets a bad rap sometimes, often clumped together with things like irresponsibility and carelessness. But Big Tom had it figured out – fun is everything. EVERYTHING. In work, in sports, in parenthood, in life. Big Tom’s laugh injected fun into our lives via our dashboard stereos every morning as we drove our lazy asses to work. His Saturdays in the Shed were a local sensation; he took music requests from the skeetiest callers in the province and treated them all with respect. Sometimes he even shacked up in the shed for days on end to raise money for charity.
Back during my single days, he hosted karaoke at the Sundance. He never failed to haul my friend Trudy up on stage for a duet. If it wasn’t Paradise By the Dashboard Lights, it was Love Shack, or Summer Lovin’. She could never resist. His love of music and lust for life were contagious.
Big Tom wasn’t pretending to be someone else to make money or get famous. He was using his God-given talents – essentially, just being himself – to do exactly what he was meant to do. If only everyone were so lucky.
Given the fun he brought to his fans, I can only imagine what a great dad he was to Sophie. He talked about her on the radio, which is why I knew her name when I saw them together a few weeks ago.
I was at McDonalds watching Max run around in the PlayPlace. I was sitting outside the big window, as many parents do. Big Tom was sitting right beside me with a woman (his ex-wife, I believe), watching Sophie climb and slide. I wasn’t listening to their conversation, but I could scarcely tune out their chatter and laughter. Maybe it was the toddler-mama sleep deprivation, but I started to think I was peering through the windshield of my car. For me, the sound of his voice was synonymous with the radio. He was mesmerizing. Hypnotic. Unforgettably so.
When a person is so full of life, it is hard to fathom that that life has ended. It’s just not possible. I mean lazy people, boring people, miserable people – sure. But not Big Tom. Surely if the Grim Reaper showed up at his door, he’d take one look at that smile and walk away, defeated. Probably even smiling. “Not so grim now, are ya?” Big Tom might say, followed by that boisterous chuckle.
I guess that’s what happens when you’re big. The more room you take up in people’s hearts and minds and morning routines, the emptier the space feels when you’re gone.
The bigger the voice, the more resounding the silence.
The shed is a lonely place today. Rest in peace, big guy. You done good.