Sunday, April 13, 2014
the legend of tom pitts
That man on a tricycle is not just a man on a tricycle. That's Dr. Tom Pitts the legendary Art Historian at Lander University. In addition to riding tricycles he also adopts cats, wears very cool shoes, knows a ton about art history, loves good music, eats great food, loves the Cubs, cracks everyone up and never, ever sleeps.
Tom has been at Lander for a long time. Since way back in the 1980s. He spent some time in Chicago and Italy and though he never tells anyone, he's originally from some country called Alabama.
Like all good Art Historians of a certain age, Tom lived through the transition from slides and slide trays to digital images. Not content to simply show boring slides, he then learned his way around animated slide shows and developed a knack for superimposing students' heads onto famous works of art.
I bonded with Tom before I was even hired to work with him. I met him during my interview but had no idea who he was. After my interview and during that excruciatingly long period of time where you wait on the school to make a decision and then wait on the process of approval before you actually get a phone call offering the job, Tom may or may not have sent me a cryptic email indicating that things were looking good. As soon as I accepted the job offer, Tom made it his goal to make me feel welcome and loved. For several months during that summer we exchanged emails about music, concerts, baseball and other important topics.
When school began we noticed something else we shared in common - our need to draw during meetings. Just about every meeting since then we've sat beside each other and tag team sketched goofy drawings on the backs of the meeting agenda. We even got to do a cool drawing performance art thing last fall.
Tom announced that he would be officially retiring after this academic year. We told him no. He ignored us and planned to retire anyway. When we realized we couldn't stop him we decided to accept it and try to give him a send-off that would live up to his great personality. For the past month or so students and faculty have been leaving cat related gifts for him.
That's a steel cat I cut out and left by his office door. Tom's been trying to clean out his office and we've been filling it back up with cat things.
Another cat related message left on his car.
Then the graphic design students gained access to his nearly cleaned out office and filled it up with cat balloons. Tom loved it.
And then we planned a party. A surprise party. Tom had given us specific instructions to NOT give him an embarrassing party. We ignored him and made him believe he was going to a concert at his favorite local music venue. When he arrived and walked upstairs he realized what was happening. He turned and ran down the stairs but was soon coaxed back up to the party. That's a Rice Krispy treat cat I made for the party.
To further the embarrassment we made him sit on his favorite couch up on the stage while he opened the gifts we brought.
The big gift was a cool wooden box that Jim hand lettered just for Tom. The box contained a huge stack of individual works of art created for Tom by students and faculty. He went through each one and thanked each person for their gift. I think that's my portrait of him he's holding up. It's his head drawn on a cat's body.
To give you an idea of Tom's sense of humor, earlier in the same day he found a small, beautiful bird that had died flying into a window on campus. He picked up the bird and delivered it to one of his students telling her he had a gift for her. These sorts of things happen on a daily basis. That student, Abby, put the bird in a box with a little pillow and some flowers and wrapped it as a gift for Tom that night. When he opened the box on his little couch, he laughed and grabbed the bird and pretended to eat it. A Black Sabbath reference for his students to enjoy. Moments later he tossed the bird into the crowd of Tom adorers and hit someone with it.
Several of us missed the tossing of the bird because we slipped outside to carefully apply Post It notes to Tom's vehicle.
It took a LOT of Post It notes to cover the CRV and it took a lot of time to carefully place each one.
But totally worth it. It was a thing of beauty when it was finished.
And we saved a few Post Its for the man himself when he finally came outside.
He was such a good sport about it all. He said some very kind words to everyone and he knew that all this was done for him out of sheer love. But then, it's easy to love someone like Tom. He's a wonderful guy. I got to work with him and laugh with him for 4 years and I'm a better person because of it.