By Cliff Carlson
I have been steering this vessel since late in 1991, and have had a great time doing it. I have made some wonderful friends and Tom Boyle was one of them.
Tom passed shortly after receiving last rites in his home on December 18, 2020 at age 82. He was a life-long resident of Des Plaines, IL.
Tom was not well for over 8 months, and in my mind, COVID played a role in his death. A warning to anyone out there that has been ill or feels they need to see a doctor, just do it!
Although Tom tested negative for COVID, his doctors seemed busy, and when his specialist found nothing wrong with him recently, I strongly suggested he check himself into the hospital - which he did - but by then it was too late.
Stoic to the end, Tom reeled off a list to me over the phone from the hospital of things he wanted to give his relatives and others.
I’m sure there is a lot more to know about Tom, but this is what I know.
Tom served as a Corpsman in the Air Force after high school.
A self-made man, he had a distinguished and rewarding career in sales in the printing industry, filling the needs of large printers around the country.
He was very proud of his Irishness, and collected Irish memorabilia most of his life. He hated the Irish stereotypes and fought with greeting card companies about it.
The man could sing, and he was especially fond of Irish songs. He was asked to sing at many Irish functions.
Tom loved animals and at one time owned an Irish Wolf Hound. Here, while visiting family, their dog Cutter says hello!
Tom was a long time member of the Irish Fellowship Club, Chicago Gaelic Park and the Irish American Heritage Center.
He was a Vice President of the IFC for several years. He was proud of his relationships with many of the volunteers at the Heritage Center, and held them in high regard, even if he had his differing opinions on how things should get done.
He served as a board member, Vice-President and President of the Heritage Center in the years from 1989 to 2013. He had the honor of hosting Mary Robinson, the President of Ireland, proudly showing her all the things the volunteers at the Center had accomplished.
He was instrumental in raising big support for the library at the Center and hosted a large fundraiser, bringing award winning singer/songwriter Phil Coulter from Ireland to entertain the crowd. Long time friend of the Irish, Martin Healy Jr., made a big donation and with those two as catalysts the library became a reality.
Over the years he worked in the museum and headed up the archives at the Center. He told me that in his youth he once strapped a refrigerator to his back and carried it upstairs alone! No surprise then that he would pitch in with a shovel and a strong back when it was needed for digging tunnels in the basement of the Center or whatever other dirty work needed doing.
Tom receiving the iBAM! Volunteer of the Year Award at the iBAM! Gala Awards.
Tom also had the honor of being named the iBAM! (Irish Books, Arts and Music Celebration) Volunteer of the year. He worked on the iBAM! committee, and supported the event since it began in 2009, buying his last ticket days before his demise.
Tom was on the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee and dedicated close to 25 years to the parade theme history and more enjoyable- the Queen Contest. He was one of about 20 judges who interviewed and reviewed the contestants about their Irish background, their, knowledge and involvement in traditions – and what made them Irish.
He wrote “Boyle the Kettle” in Irish American News for many years, and while our views were many times opposite, he always wrote what he thought.
(l to r): John Fitzpatrick, his wife Corina, and Tom Boyle visiting the building of the Jeanne Johnston in Tralee, Co. Kerry Ireland in 1999.
Tom was instrumental in garnering help from the local pipefitters union in Chicago to help build the Jeanne Johnston Famine Memorial ship that sailed to America and is now docked in Dublin. I traveled to Ireland with Tom to see the building of the Jeanie Johnston long before it was seaworthy in the 1990’s. We walked the ‘ribs’ of the ship in Tralee, Co. Kerry near the small and wonderful Irish city of Listowel.
Here is a note from John Griffin in Ireland, explaining Tom's work on the Jeanne Johnston ship. "Tom deserves all the generous accolades you can give him, even posthumously. He was so proud of his Irish heritage. His involvement in the Jeanie Johnston famine ship project from 1998-2003 was just one manifestation of it.
He was instrumental in having the Chicago pipe workers work on the ship and have Navy Pier present the ship's sextant. Who will know of his great contribution to the Heritage Center and everything Irish in Chicago. He was a great friend to me and I was delighted to meet up with him again in Chicago during the Mayor's visit there last March 13, 2020."
Tom with former IAN columnist and bon vivant Shay Clarke, and Cliff Carlson.
His friend, John Griffin, who headed the building of the ship in Tralee visited Chicago, and Tom, John and I met at the Gage Restaurant on March 13, 2020, the last day of freedom before COVID took hold.
When the scavengers of the law came after the farm of a relative of his, Tom came to his rescue and somehow beat them at their own game, and that relative still has his farm all these years later!
One of his friends whom I will keep anonymous said, “if you look in the dictionary under the definition of Curmudgeon, Tom fit the description to a tee!” Tom did not suffer fools well, and was known to speak his mind no matter who might get upset.
But underneath the gruff exterior was a softy with a heart of gold. When he passed, he was still making donations to causes he cared about. He had a score of letters at his house from causes to which he had donated to over the years, and I was amazed at how many.
Tom with some of the hard working volunteers at the Irish American Heritage Center circa 1990's.
And here is a tribute from the owners of the Cincinnati Irish Heritage Center, Maureen Kennedy and Kent Covey
Born September 12, 1938, He was a great and devoted friend to many.
The son of the late Michael Boyle and Johanna (Cooney) Boyle. Beloved brother of Catherine (Boyle) Shaffer, Patrick Kent, Eileen Kent and the late Margaret (Boyle) Taylor, Elizabeth (Boyle) Dockter, Jeanne Boyle and his treasured dog Boru. He was a dear uncle to his many nieces and nephews and grandniece and grandnephews.
A celebration of Tom’s life will be held in the future at the Irish American Heritage Center. Funeral care provided by G. L. Hills Funeral Home. For information please call the funeral home at (847) 699-9003 or glhillsfuneralhome.com
Tom has made his last trip to Ireland, which I believe can only have prepared him for what is to come!
God bless you Tom!
A big thank you to Brian Donovan, Peggy Murphy, Mike Neary, and Monica Dougherty for their input on this article.
Tom, working in the archives of the Heritage Center in Chicago.