In Memory of a Brother

There was that smile.

Or a quick-witted sarcastic comeback, always coupled with that knowing grin and a twinkle in his eye that says he knows he just gotcha.

When I think back on the time that I had the privilege to know our USRC Brother Tom Meachum, I guess that’s what I’ll remember most. And it will always make me happy. So before I go any further, I’d really just like to be sure and say: thanks, Tom, for that smile.

I first crossed paths with Tom back in 2008 when he was serving (among his numerous other community roles) as the Democratic Central Committee Chairperson for Champaign County’s District 1. A District for which I had designs on being the Democratic candidate for County Board.

To do that, I needed Tom’s approval. Of course having Tom’s approval for this largely symbolic and self-sacrificial role was definitely a foregone conclusion. Tom knew a naive newcomer when he saw one and he was more than happy to have me on board. And he gave me all the support and advice I needed.

That didn’t stop me from losing 2 to 1, but one very positive result of that loss was being able to count Tom among friends. And I’ve been happy and honored to count Tom among friends ever since.

A part of that campaign included promoting the Sangamon River, and my involvement in founding the Upper Sangamon River Conservancy grew out of my efforts in that campaign, another very positive result. But even more positive was Tom also coming on board as a founding member of the USRC.

Tom sat with several of us around a table at Bruce Colravy’s home and formed what was to become the USRC. And this was just one of many fine examples of Tom’s commitment to the community in both thought and action.

Tom was active in the Mahomet United Methodist Church (where we held several USRC meetings on Tom’s invite), with the Mahomet Lions (where I was a USRC guest speaker on two occasions, so far) and he was the Registrar at the Museum of the Grand Prairie (where we held one very nice USRC meeting in the new facility on Tom’s invite).

In fact, Tom has been so active in the community that during Riverfest his biggest dilemma was which organization’s t-shirt he should be wearing.

One of my first exploratory trips down the Sangamon was with Tom and several others from the Champaign County Forest Preserve District. Despite sideswiping a downed tree and swamping his canoe, Tom was undeterred. He loved the outdoors and thoroughly enjoyed being on the river among friends.

On a later trip, Tom was joined by his son-in-law John. Some of us were trying to use GPS to map problem spots on the river. Again, Tom and John ended up in the drink on several different occasions while navigating under, over or around fallen trees. Somewhere near the end, John was so exasperated that he concluded that mapping logjams wasn’t needed: just depict a logjam every 17 feet on the map, which was the length of their canoe. Again, Tom remained undeterred.

And Tom was ever the family man. The canoe he purchased was big and wide with plenty of room for his grandkids. One of my favorite pictures we have of Tom is of him and his grandkids in that canoe on the USRC’s community float trip.

Tom’s love of history, reflected in his second career at the Museum of the Grand Prairie, led him to take a strong interest in the USRC’s work with the Hazen Bridge. Early on, Tom and I visited Champaign’s Preservation and Conservation Association (PACA), which owns the bridge and truly appreciated our interest in it and caretaking of it. Naturally, PACA gave the USRC their blessing.

And on every Hazen Bridge workday where it was at all possible, Tom was always there with a hammer, a shovel, a lever or a rake to help out in beautifying this Champaign County historic treasure.

I’m sure I speak for many when I say that our community and our world has changed for the better having had Tom in it. And this is true for me personally as well.

Tom, I am lucky to have known you and I’m proud to say that you have truly made a positive difference in the many lives you touched, and that is a legacy of which you can be proud. All of us should be so fortunate.

I thought about Tom and about writing this memoir while walking my dogs under a clear, dark and starry sky the evening after he passed. A bright crescent moon hung low in the Western sky with its points up, the stars twinkling in the evening sky.

And there was that smile. And it made me happy. Thanks, Tom, for that smile.

Appeared as Notes from the River, Mahomet Citizen, May 7, 2015, by Scott Hays

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