A Toast to Thomas F. Roeser
By Daniel J. Kelley
I am finding it hard to mourn Thomas F. Roeser.
Yes, I am saddened by his recent demise and I will certainly miss his company and his op-ed columns and radio programs. I also feel for his many friends and family members who will miss him so much. I am not ashamed to say that I have wept for other persons who have left us, especially those who to have been taken at an early age, but not for Tom.
I am finding it hard to feel empty. I do regret the conversations that we did not have time to hold when the game was called, but my strongest reaction to Tom’s death is a sense of gratitude. I feel that Tom’s life is the subject for a celebration. I am confident that he is in the presence of the Risen Lord.
The Requiem Mass held for Tom at St. John Cantius was beautiful and moving. It was eloquent in its simplicity. The selected Gospel reading related the familiar account of Jesus comforting Martha and Mary following the death of their brother Lazarus in which Christ reveals himself as “the Resurrection and the Life.” The choice of this reading was perfectly appropriate, but, when I reflect upon Tom’s life, I am also reminded of the Parable of the Talents. I truly believe that Tom merited commendation as “a good and faithful servant.”
Tom Roeser lived a full life and remained amazingly active and engaged up until the last. His last broadcast aired on WLS 890 AM on May 15th; his final column was posted on May 16th. His radio retirement was announced only a few short days before his death. The truth of the matter is that Tom maintained a vigorous schedule up until the time of his last hospitalization. I hope and pray that I may still be so vital and engaged as I grow older. It was wonderful to see how many of Tom’s many friends were decades younger than he was.
In recent years, Tom had to make some adjustments due to a variety of medical complaints associated with his age, but I somehow thought that it was quite possible that he would spring back into action as soon as his doctors released him from the hospital as he had done so many times before. While this was not to be, I can say without hesitation, aches and pains aside, Tom would be the first to admit that he had been enjoying himself and having plenty of fun during his “retirement.” In addition to his radio appearances, he published his first full length book, “Father Mac,” a marvelous biography of Father Ignatius McDermott, the founder of the Haymarket Center which provides services to recovering addicts and alcoholics.
For many years, Tom Roeser and I were like the proverbial ships that passed in the night. We occasionally interacted with some of the same people, sometimes attended the same series of luncheon talks, supported the same charities and not for profit organizations, but otherwise did not associate frequently. Like many Chicagoans, I knew of Tom Roeser primarily through his appearances on panel discussion programs such as “Chicago Tonight.”
Initially, I was confused as to why Tom was regularly asked to speak on behalf of the Republican Party on Channel 11 inasmuch as he was not an elected official or a party officeholder. Later, having heard a few of the official spokesmen of the Illinois Republican Party, most whom were entirely clueless as to why they were Republicans apart from legislative district geography or regular paychecks, I came to appreciate why John Calloway preferred to have Roeser on his live broadcasts. Some of the official flacks could not articulate coherent opinions or begin to defend the Reagan Revolution or the Republican platform.
While I was familiar with Tom through these television appearances and his weekly columns in either the Chicago Sun-Times or the Tribune, I did not know him personally. All of this changed due to the Internet. Tom had begun his own web log and I found myself reading his daily posts and responding with occasional comments. Eventually, I sent him a complimentary letter and this resulted in my being invited to join Tom for lunch at the Chicago Athletic Association. I was surprised and delighted when Tom encouraged me to begin writing for “The Chicago Daily Observer” while we were dining in the Cherry Circle lounge. The next few years were such great fun!
I do think that Tom showed me a trifling amount of partiality once we became better acquainted solely on account of the fact that we were both educated in Minnesota; Tom attended St. John’s under the Benedictines; I studied with the Christian Brothers at St. Mary’s. While I was an undergraduate, former US Representative Albert H. Quie served as the Governor of Minnesota. I was to learn later that Tom had worked for Quie at the start of the Republican politician’s congressional career.
I am grateful to Lillian Roeser and the entire Roeser family for patiently sharing Tom with all of us for so many years. For a man who never held an elected office, Tom led a very public life. My hope is that someday in the not too distant future, Tom’s autobiographical essays are gathered together and edited into a full length book.
As a final observation, I am most thankful to the anonymous registrar who slated Tom Roeser for the Theology class taught by the Reverend Ernest Kilzer, O.S.B. This simple act may have made all of the difference for those of us who had the privilege of coming to know and love Tom and his manifold works.
Daniel J. Kelley is a regular contributor to “The Chicago Daily Observer” who was recruited by Tom Roeser.