He was a small-town boy with a big appetite for life, a lawyer who saw himself in the clients he stood up for and who believed in second chances.

Thomas Ryan Kamb built a career defending DUI cases, traffic violations and petty criminal offenses, often representing the destitute or down-on-their-luck, many of them friends or friends-of-friends who had nowhere else to turn.

"Tommy would represent anyone, any place, anytime and not many lawyers do that," said Skagit County Superior Court Judge Mike Rickert, a longtime friend. "He probably represented more people for free than any 10 lawyers in Skagit County. But he did it because he liked helping people."

A proud father of three daughters, grandfather to a toddler boy and lifelong Skagit County resident, Tommy died in his sleep of natural causes related to cardiac arrest on March 22. He was 53.

Born in Mt. Vernon in 1960, Tommy grew up the fourth of nine children to attorney John G. Kamb and his wife, Wilma C. Kamb. From an early age, he tested boundaries sometimes at his own peril, friends and family recalled.

At about age five, Tommy meandered from his grandparents' Fir Island home to a neighboring dairy farm, where he climbed a mound of crusted-over manure, sunk to his waist and became stuck. When an old Dutch farmer pulled Tommy from the pile, the boy came out, but his boots didn't.

"He had to run home in his socks, covered in cow (manure)," recalled his older brother, John Kamb Jr. "And Grandpa wasn't happy."

Stout with reddish-brown hair and brown eyes, Tommy organized backyard pick-up games, competed intensely against siblings and friends, and used his quick wit and sharp tongue to pester opponents.

He served as an altar boy for Immaculate Conception Church and attended the Catholic school through the 8th grade. At Mt. Vernon High School, he lettered as a manager of the wrestling team and as a kicker for the school's football squad. He graduated with honors in 1978.

With a steel trap mind, Tommy could memorize facts, figures, statistics and records, then recall them instantly several months, even years later.

"He knew everybody's phone number, but never had to write any of them down," said Meade Sprouse, a close friend since grade school. "He'd just log it all into that memory bank of his."

He attended Washington State University, where he served as president of the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity and won a string of intramural contests.

"I don't know how many times he won the pinball championship," his sister and fellow WSU alum, Rosemary Kidane said. "But around campus, they started calling him the Pinball Wizard."

A passionate sports fan and diehard Cougar, Tommy regularly attended premier sporting events, from Super Bowls to all-star games, Final Fours to Apple Cups. Outside of stadiums, he hustled hard-to-get tickets, negotiating swaps and sales to upgrade bleacher seats into prime tickets by game-time.

Tom graduated from WSU with an accounting degree in 1983, then studied law at Gonzaga University. He passed the bar exam in 1987 and returned to Mt. Vernon to practice at his father's law firm. Over time, he built a respected criminal law practice, garnering public defender contracts from several Skagit towns.

In 1989, he married Melissa Beaton, of Burlington, and the couple had three daughters: Mackenzie, Madison and Makayla.

He became his girls' biggest fans, regularly attending their sporting events and bragging about their achievements.

After his grandson, Maximum Ryan Powers, was born in 2011, Tom read the boy the daily racing form over weekly breakfasts at the Sports Keg in Burlington. He took to calling his middle-name namesake "My Little Buddy;" his grandson, in turn, called Tommy, "Papa."

"He absolutely loved his daughters and his whole family," said friend Ken Evans. "He idolized his mother and followed in his father's foot steps."

Beyond sharing his dad's profession, Tommy inherited a keen card sense and a thirst for playing the ponies. At times, he handicapped horseraces days in advance and bought ownership stakes in several thoroughbreds. He became an annual fixture at the Kentucky Derby and the Breeders' Cup, where he consorted with some of horseracing's luminaries and oddballs alike.

"He hobnobbed at the track with movie stars and the real movers-and-shakers in the world of horseracing," Evans said. "But he also knew the guys placing the two-dollar bets with their Social Security check."

His friendships were vast, transcending generations and social classes.

"He was a social animal," Rickert said. "Tommy knew everybody and everybody knew him, and he liked to have good times."

In recent months, Tommy tried hard to improve his health and maintain his relationships. He visited his oldest sister at her home in Atlanta, Ga., accompanied his mother to church and took up regular work outs at the gym.

On his last night out, he shared dinner with friends, caught a lift home and turned in early. A few hours later, he texted a good morning message to his friend, Jayne Gilbert. Then, sometime afterward, he slipped off into sleep forever.

Tommy was preceded in death by a brother, Robert Kamb, and a sister, Elizabeth Mitchell.

He is survived by his parents, his daughters and his grandson; a sister, Mary Kamb, and her daughter, Meggie; brother John Kamb, his wife, Mary, and their son, Peter and Julia Pena; sister, Rosemary, and her children, Astor, Abraham and Gus; a nephew and niece, Alexander and Grace Mitchell; brother, Mike Kamb, his partner Kristy Jellison, and his children, Robert and Cecilia; sister Angie Conijn, her husband John, and their children, John Dylan, Phillip and Joseph; and brother Lewis Kamb, his wife, Angela Galloway, and their children, Finn and Sylvie.

A Rosary will be held at 7 p.m. on Friday, March 28th, 2014 at Hawthorne Funeral Home, 1825 College Way, in Mt. Vernon. A funeral mass will commence at 2 p.m. on Saturday, March 29th, 2014 at the Immaculate Conception Church, 110 South Fifth Street, with a reception to follow. The family plans private graveside services at Pleasant Ridge Cemetery.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to be made in Tommy's memory to the Immaculate Conception Regional School.

Please share your thoughts of Tommy at Arrangements are under the care of Hawthorne Funeral Home.

Funeral Home

Hawthorne Funeral Home and Memorial Park
1825 E. College Way  Mount Vernon, WA 98273