In today’s world, it is of utmost importance to study the lives of those who have devoted themselves selflessly to community. We need to understand and aspire to the qualities of leadership, value of community, integrity, generosity and engagement with creativity.
Tom Siess embodied all of these wonderful qualities.
Tom’s death reminds us of the contrast we are facing in our society between selfish and selfless intent. We are truly at crossroads and have to make a choice. Do we continue to have leaders that divide community, villainize community members, teach us to be greedy and self-focused and respond to populist impulse, or do we choose to cultivate leaders who can empathize and bring us together towards a future of common good? A future that embraces our diversity and respects all life. For the latter, I present some reflections on the life of Tom Siess.
Tom was a great listener. He believed in letting people speak their truth without interruption. His ability to reflect what he heard and stay centered without impulsively reacting is something I will always remember and strive to achieve.
As a leader, I watched Tom quietly empower others to lead. He would often say to me: “what do you want to achieve?” If he believed in the pathway, he would just say: “What do you need from us? I don’t want to get in your way.”
His ability to find language that crystalized his thoughts and heart was so inspiring. He thought carefully before he spoke and understood the power of language for good and bad intent. He always strived for good. I remember getting myself worked up over some sort of drama in our community and a quiet smile would come over his face as if to say: “that’s how humans are…if you haven’t figured that out yet. Don’t get too worked up about it, just continue doing good things and fight the good fight”.
Tom believed strongly in giving back to community. It was a belief he just lived. He didn’t talk about or celebrate his giving. It was so authentic. Whether he served on a board or helped paint windows, he went about this work with natural stride and joy.
Tom wasn’t afraid to call out someone on their behaviour or point out the needs for change. He always did this with firmness and love. It seemed impossible to take his criticism personally as it was always tied to his personal values, ethics and mission.
Music was always a mainstay in Tom’s life. His work with the Folk Community still resonates internationally. He believed in the Arts and Art Education as a touchstone to the core of our beings. Anne and Tom’s home was always a revolving door of billeted artists, community supporters and his closest friends. There was always a party or celebration that would spontaneously burst into song.
Above all, Tom was a friend. He understood and valued friendships and made big investments in those relationships. He was someone you could confide in, count on and call on. What did this mean to me? Tom gave me confidence to dive into the water after sticking my toe in it. He helped me get comfortable with leadership and its risks, often holding my hand at the precipices. On more than one occasion, I experienced sleepless nights in fear of failure. When I expressed my fears to Tom, he said: “You’ve always been brave, just keep being brave. I’m here to help you”.
We’ll miss you Tom. May we all learn to take up your mantle. For me the mantle will always be the qualities you possessed and how we can learn from you as a role model of authentic love.
In Memoriam, Tom Siess (2018)
Tom Siess passed away peacefully at home, in the house he so lovingly built with Anne as their retirement home, after a lengthy illness with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. His wife Anne, his children Paul (Christine), Miriam, Debbie (Joe), grandchildren Ian, Ryan, Emma and Jonah and their much loved Havanese, Sasha are grateful that he lived far longer than expected. Predeceased by his brother Ken 2 weeks ago and survived by his sister Marian Macbeth.
At the end of his life Tom said that he had accomplished everything that he had wanted. He completed his PhD in psychology at University of Minnesota. He and Anne moved to London with Paul, Mim and Debbie on the way. He worked at the University of Western Ontario and was a highly regarded professor of psychology. He transitioned to administration and was Director of Student Services for 25 years. The student services programs he led at Western were models for universities and colleges all across Ontario and Canada.
Tom was exceedingly proud when the Siess family became Canadian citizens in 1972 and he remained a proud Canadian throughout his life. He served his community as an alderman on London City Council for 7 years.
Tom loved music. He helped build and run the Cuckoo’s Nest Folk Club and directed the Home County Folk Festival in the 70’s and 80’s. Tom and Anne sang together and were frequent and popular members of many folk singing gatherings in London and afar. Tom and Anne were 2/3 of the trio Tom, Anne and Bob, and brought folk music and song to public schools for many years. In addition, Tom and Anne played Santa and Mrs. Claus for the University preschool for many years. Tom in his Santa suit with his guitar will be remembered by many children and adults.
Tom loved to dance and his favourite partner was Anne. Together they were graceful, lively and well partnered. They loved Pinewoods dance camp in Massachusetts and had many good friends in the dance community. Tom was president of the Country Dance and Song Society and a founding member of the True North Country Dance Society in London, Ontario. New Year’s Eves were lively parties with dance friends from across Ontario and the States. Tom was always the life of the party with his flawlessly told jokes and his hearty laugh. He and Anne were often the centre of hijinks and practical jokes to the delight of us all.
Tom was so proud of his volunteer work. He became involved in the Grand Theatre and served as board chair. He was privileged to take part in productions of The Dining Room and The 39 Steps on the Grand stage. For the last decade of his life, Tom’s passion was Aeolian Hall. He helped with renovations and repairs, fundraising and was Board Chair until June of this year. He helped develop and implement the El Sistema program, bringing musical instruction to kids who would not otherwise be able to learn an instrument.
Tom loved to travel. He and Anne saw much of Canada and the US as well as St. Lucia, Paris, the narrow boats of England, Italy and in May of 2017 took a Danube river boat cruise from Budapest, through Austria to Prague. They spent the past 3 February’s in Encinitas, California and Tempe, Arizona thanks to the care and generosity of great friends.
But most of all, Tom loved his family. He always said of his wife, Anne that she was the most wonderful woman and he didn’t deserve her. She always knew that at least on the latter point, he was wrong. He was so proud of his children’s accomplishments. He loved his grandchildren Ian, Ryan, Emma and Jonah. His children and grandchildren are so grateful for his love and support and we will cherish the beautiful woodworking pieces he created in his retirement years. We were privileged to have known him, to have loved him, and to have been loved by him.
Tom’s family would like to thank his wonderful family doctor, Dr. Dorli Herman, Dr. David McCormack for his expertise and compassion, the palliative care team and the many friends and colleagues who sent messages and visited over the last several months. Your love and support for Tom and Anne will not be forgotten.
There will be a celebration of Tom’s life at Aeolian Hall at a later date. The family requests donations, in lieu of flowers, in Tom’s name to Aeolian Hall.
With thanks to the following for the generous contributions in memory of tom siess.
Paul & Beverly Mills
Robert and Roberta Cory
Phyllis & Marvin Simner
Huron Perth Health Care Alliance
June & Don Meremurro
Judy and John Ogletree
Mackenzie Lake Lawyers LLP
Charles & Pleasanc Crawford
Joseph D. Driskill