Since his death several weeks ago, I've received a number of calls and e-mails from former students of Tom Longstreth, the celebrated St. Paul's School English teacher and coach, who was a much-beloved figure on the school's Brooklandville campus for 41 years.
Tom was also my former neighbor and a prolific daily walker who could be seen striding along the streets of Riderwood, ramrod-straight and wearing his trademark khaki pants and blue button-down Oxford cloth shirt. In the warm months, he'd add a crumpled tennis hat to his wardrobe, his only concession to the elements.
He was the embodiment of kindness, and I experienced firsthand why he inspired such lifelong loyalty and affection from the generations of students he taught.
Tom was the master of the crisply written and succinct note - in pen, of course, with his distinctive handwriting - that he would drop in the mailbox or tuck into the front door.
He liked calling attention to things that had moved, stimulated or provoked him. He was always very gracious and unstinting when it came to praise or criticism.
Through the years, in addition to his own busy professional life, Tom, who was also known by the nickname "Stretch," found time to write articles or letters on a variety of subjects, which were published in Sports Illustrated, T he Sun and T he Evening Sun.
Sports were frequently a favorite subject, but so were books and authors and contemporary news events.
Writing about his first Frederick Keys game in The Evening Sun in 1990, Tom was immediately taken with the 4,000-seat ballpark that recalled his boyhood visits to a fabled North Philadelphia ballpark.
"I sit down. Incredibly, I am right on top of the action, no more than 35 feet from third base," he wrote. "The players are close, closer even than they were when I saw games in Philadelphia's Shibe Park in the '40s and '50s. They are real people, with emotions vying for expressions through the stolid professional masks they try to wear."
On Opening Day in 1990, Tom reviewed the Orioles' previous season in an Evening Sun op-ed piece, including the untimely death that year of Baseball Commissioner Bartlett A. "Bart" Giamatti, highlighting the season with quotes from various Shakespeare plays.
"And then Giamatti, medieval scholar, president of Yale and commissioner of baseball, having done his duty, died. We might say that 'this was the noblest Roman of them all. ... His life was gentle, and the elements so mixed in him that nature might stand up and say to all the world, "This was a man!" ' (Julius Caesar)," wrote Tom.
"And then the season was over. In Toronto, despite local boy Dave Johnson's valiant pitching effort, we had to admit that the 'game is up' (Cymbeline). But by way of farewell to the '89 Birds, we said that 'summer's lease hath all too short a date. ... But the eternal summer shall not fade.' (Sonnet 18)"
In a 1988 Evening Sun article, Tom wrote about the enduring value of sports and the lifelong lessons they impart.
"But for all the justified debunking of sports as the training ground for assured success in adult life, it would appear that athletics do provide their youthful participants with one absolutely invaluable lesson, learned so naturally and so easily that one does not even know that he or she is learning it: life isn't fair, and we should expect it to be," he wrote.
One day, a published letter that Tom had written to Sports Illustrated appeared mysteriously on the Upper School bulletin board at St. Paul's.
"It had been marked the way I mark, with comments in red ink, in handwriting that even looked like mine. I think it got a C-plus," Tom recalled in a 1991 interview with St. Paul's Magazine.
Charley Mitchell, one of Tom's former students, who is now an executive with Lippincott Williams & Wilkins and is also an historian and author, admitted being the guy behind the bulletin board parody.
"It was tacked on the bulletin board right next to the weekly demerits list. Tom thought it really was very humorous and that someone had really gotten his style down," said Mitchell. "He laughed as hard as anybody and loved to tell people the story."
Kimball Payne, who graduated from St. Paul's in 1997 and is a political reporter for The Daily Press in Newport News, Va., is another longtime admirer.
"I knew I was in Stretch's wheelhouse because I was interested in Holden Caufield, baseball and sex. I knew this would be an easy A-minus," recalled Payne with a laugh the other day.
"He was so passionate about so many things, and he had the ability to connect across generations. He also let you be yourself, but at the same time, he knew all of our tricks. After all, we weren't the first horses in his barn," said Payne.
Payne recalled the weekly 500- or 1,000-word essays that his teacher assigned.
"Comments were written in red pen. They amounted to little notes. He was always so encouraging but wanted you to work harder," he said.
"Tom forced us to read, and he wanted you to defend your point of view even if it meant taking on one of his favorite novels," Payne said. " He was a man who never shied away from conversation. When he was waving his arms to make a point, he looked like he was directing a symphony."
He added: "You couldn't find a reason not to like Tom."
Next weekend, Tom's Williams College classmates will be gathering in Williamstown, Mass., to celebrate their 50th reunion.
"We will, of course, be thinking about Tom," said Ernest F. Imhoff, a retired Sun editor and a longtime friend. "He will be a clear memory of goodness for many of us."