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  • Writer's picturejfroth8


Updated: Sep 12, 2019

This blog post is about life, friendship, magic, serendipity, and loss. It centers around a good friend of mine who you likely didn't know, but, that doesn't matter. You may find it an enriching read, anyway.

In Memory of My Good Friend,

Tom Nowell

5 Mar,1951 ~ 17 Oct 2018

People often ask me why I came to the Bay Area, and while it was more complicated than this, I always tell them, " Well, the short answer is: pot, music and girls! And then, I discovered all the other great stuff and I decided to stick around". Which is true, and I never regretted it. And, one of the the first great things I discovered was Tom. It was 1979 and I had just arrived in San Francisco. I didn't know anyone, which was part of the fun adventure, but, I also had no idea where to score some marijuana, which was not so fun! Out of the blue an old friend of mine, from school days on the East Coast, appeared. I don't remember how he found me, I didn't know he was even on the West Coast at all, and yet there he was, telling me, " oh, I know someone you just have to meet! He is a great guy and he has whatever you need, it's really good and he's like a pot supermarket!!" And so I met Tom, who was in college and making some money dealing to pay his way. He was a frisky young pup in those days. He had a big stash under his bed and it was indeed really good, and we soon found much in common and became fast friends. Tom is my longest and only friend from those early days in the Bay Area. He and I bonded over many things, among them '60s progressive values, and it all started with pot... and that's one more thing to thank Marijuana for! It was all very serendipitous.... and serendipity, I soon found, was a hallmark of our relationship over the years. Tom was someone I only saw a couple times a year, if that, and yet each and every time was deeply soulful, richly significent, and often serendipitous. For instance, when John Lennon was murdered, I was at Tom's - this is less than a year after we met - when we heard the news. It was a huge, profound, global moment which rocked both of our worlds immediately. I remember driving home in my car that night and feeling the irrisistable gravity of what had happened just pull me right off to the side the road, where I had to sit for many minutes trying to get a handle and process things and get it together.... John Lennon would be a cornerstone of Tom and my relationship from that day forward. Another time, a few years later, I went see Joni Mitchell perform at what is now Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco. It was her jazzy, "Wild Things Run Fast" period, with a terrific band. I showed up with my ticket and, who do I see standing in line? Tom! I had no idea he would be there, or even that he was into her music. It was a special night, all the more so, knowing we shared it together. Tom and I both grew up on the East Coast and both moved to the West Coast. We would also both bounce back and forth a couple of times, over the years, before deciding on which coast to make our homes: his on the East, mine on the West. As I said, we were not always in close touch as we both went thru our many changes in life, but, all the while, we were aware and appreciative of our special relationship. I was visiting my home state of Massachusetts one night in the '80s, shopping at a mall near my mom's house, when suddenly - there was Tom!! Again, no idea he was on the East Coast, I actually thought he was back in San Francisco!! I mean, really, what are the odds? Another time, I visited him when he was living next door to what had been the Kennedy's home back when JFK was born. There was a tour you could take, which we did, and you could see the basinnette baby John once slept in, hear a recording of his mother Rose's voice telling stories of those days, etc,. This is another example of our many brief, but rich and meaningful, visits... and this one was a generational touchstone.... the Eternal Flame burns still, in Arlington Cemetery and in our hearts. I grew up on a cul de sac in Weston, Ma., and the woods and fields behind our house were a playground for all of us kids growing in the neighborhood. It was safe and beautiful, and in later years as teenagers, it also served as a great place to go get stoned or explore our budding emotions and sexuality. As I grew older, I worried that it would be developed and lost forever, as so many wild places are. Eventually, much of it was.... but a significent area was preserved.... And, guess what? It turned out that Tom Nowell was one of the key people who helped make that happen!! He knew not of my youth there, nor I that he was involved in such activities, and so we were both quite blown away while chatting one night, excited to learn of yet another deep connection between us. I ask again, what are the odds?? Eventually, Tom established himself in his profession running a psychotherapy clinic, while I did similarly in bands and with a music rehearsal studio business. Then, in the early nineties, I was in the midst of expanding my music studio, which I had owned and operated for several years in Marin Country, just north of San Francisco. I had been shopping around for a building contractor to build some new rooms in my leased warehouse space and I had narrowed it down to three candidates. So, one day, I was at a construction site talking to a contractor named Chris to assess if he might be the best choice. And who at that very moment drives up, out of the blue? Tom, of course!! Turns out he and Chris were old friends!! Seriously, what are the freaking odds, people?!? Lol He gave Chris high marks, and that was good enough for me and so, we sealed the deal. Chris treated me very well over the years, helping me both to expand my original studio and, a few years later, to build a second location. Serendipity.... Tom was funny, smart, thoughtful, and a very loving and kind person, a healer. And, he surrounded himself with similar types of people. I remember going to a party he was at in Jamaica Plain, Ma., on one of my east coast visits in the '80s. It was a fun holiday gathering of his fellow social workers, and I gotta say that it was one of the friendliest, kindest group of people I have ever been around. Good people making the world a better place. Then, a few years ago, he had his car accident. It seems cruel, indeed, that such a wonderful person should experience the tragic circumstance which he did during his last few years on earth. It is impossible for you or I to comprehend what he endured, trapped and helpless inside his paralyzed body. I was amazed at the light-hearted phone conversations we would have in spite of it all. I always lamented that, due to my financial situation - I lost my studio business of 23 years right around the same time that he had his car accident - I was unable to be with him in person at least once before he passed. And, it was a tricky business communicating with him by phone... because, of course, sharing my normal life things with him always risked triggering the bottomless sadness and anxiety in him of his knowing he would never, ever be able to do normal things again. It's beyond words really. He was so lucky to be surrounded by his angel of a wife, Stephanie, his family and all those who loved him. It was really hard on all concerned, I know, especially on his family, in ways I also cannot imagine. We all ultimately felt helpless. I do remember a phone call with Tom and Stephanie on his birthday a couple of years ago. They were celebrating together and having a lot of fun. It was so joyous! It made me so happy and also gave me hope for their future....but that, of course, was fleeting. And so, all I or anyone, really, could do was show up and say "I love you, how are you doing? I was thinking of you. Anything can I do to help?" I don't know what he saw in me as a friend, really; it's all a mystery, this love and friendship thing, isn't it? Why is it mutual with one person and not another? I am so glad we were friends! And, there is so much more i could tell you...He must have said a million times that he loved me, which , when you think about it, is amazing.... because, how many men are willing to say that very often to another man, or to anybody? Not many, even now. This is one more illustration of how rare and beautiful a bird was ol' Thomas Lawrence Nowell. Tom will be a long time gone from this world, and we will miss him so...losing loved ones always tests our understanding of life and death.... You may feel otherwise philosophically, and i do not wish to be pushy, but, I am absolutely sure he is in the spiritual dimension now, and that that is a good thing, much better than the suffering he endured in his earthly body. He may even find a way to give us a sign at some point. I for one will be on the lookout, for sure. This has happened for me before, with others I have loved and lost,.... not always, though, so we'll see...but, as science tells us, energy is never destroyed, only transformed..... His soul had a whole lot of energy, it seems to me! Meanwhile, whatever our individual belief systems, let's all of us bombard his spirit/our memory of him, and also each other with all the goodwill, love, and thankfulness for having known him that we can muster. Let's have a party in his honor and spread a little love in the world. I am pretty sure he would want that ~

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