Tommy K. Forstrom
December 18, 1943 - March 13, 2013
SALEM - If Tom Forstrom were alive today, he might be driven to write another Willamette Whimsy column.
How else could he deal with the irony of finding more than a half page of the Statesman Journal devoted to his very private life, not to mention three photographs of himself and even more on the newspaper's Website? Topping it off was discovering his name listed second only to Pope Francis I among the "winners" in the editorial page's Winners and Losers.
It's Whimsy material, for sure, but that column will never appear, because Tom died last Wednesday. Congestive heart failure finally took its toll. He was 69.
For several years before his retirement in 2005, Willamette Whimsy had been his vehicle for pithy, tongue-in-cheek commentary about the world around him. He had fun with lots of topics, especially Spam, accordions, Scio, Pepper the keeshond, his wife and daughters and particularly himself.
Longtime friend and co-worker Larry Roby recalled that Willamette Whimsy was Tom Forstrom at his best. "It was always a surprise to me that such a private, quiet journalist
as Tom could turn out such a witty piece of journalism," Roby wrote.
Readers loved his work. One of them wrote the day after Tom died, "I always read Tom's articles. It is so nice to start your day with a smile." Another wrote, "I've missed Tom's columns since he retired…they were a welcome respite from the usual blather."
He had planned to continue writing after he left the job. In 2005 he told an interviewer he was going to get serious about writing a book. Longtime friend and famed crime author Ann Rule had suggested that. "She's nagged me all the time to do a book," he said. "I said, 'Yeah, I will.'" But he never did.
Instead, Tom's days revolved around newspapers (still) and cooking. When he wasn't poring over the three newspapers that were delivered to his door and at least four East Coast papers he read online, he was grocery shopping and fixing dinner for his wife, Kathie. Like clockwork, the evening meal was always ready at 7 p.m., whether or not she was hungry earlier.
Tom and Kathie had been married for almost 47 years. They met when their respective roommates introduced them on a double date. The roommates eventually split up, but Tom and Kathie never did.
Tom was born in 1943 in Vancouver, Washington, to Kelsey (Bud) and Vivian Forstrom. His birth certificate says "Tommy K Forstrom." Like Harry S Truman, Tom's middle initial didn't stand for a middle name. It was just a letter. Years later his friends would call him "Tommy K (only)." He didn't seem to mind.
The family moved to Enterprise, Oregon, and then to Salem where he attended Salem Heights Elementary. Later the family moved east again, this time to Pendleton where Tom graduated from Pendleton High School. He earned a bachelor's degree in education/English from Eastern Oregon College (now Eastern Oregon University) in LaGrande.
He taught English and creative writing at Redmond High School before landing a job at the Capital Journal in Salem in 1969. As the newspaper merged with The Oregon Statesman to become the Statesman Journal, Tom's role changed from reporter to editor and finally to food editor and columnist.
Bill Florence, who was editor of the paper during seven of those years, praised him. "Tommy was funny, and he was genuine, and he was honest, and he was dependable," Florence wrote. "He could write with grace and style and panache and brevity. He had terrific skills, but Tommy the journalist was only part of the picture. Tommy was, above all else-first and forever-a great guy. He knew who he was, and where he lived, and the people who populated his community, and he helped to keep everyone around him grounded."
Besides his passion for his family, newspapers and cooking, Tom loved fishing and going on long drives. He and Kathie once took a cross-country road trip that fascinated them both. They also travelled to South Africa, Hawaii, Florida, Las Vegas and the East Coast.
Even though his job required that he work in prose, he loved poetry. Kathie said he once stood on a rock at the beach and recited from memory all 626 lines of the "Rime of the Ancient Mariner."
Tom and his family raised vegetables, and he was proud to point out that their pole beans won second-place awards at the Oregon State Fair two out of the last three years.
Tommy Forstrom will be remembered as a loving, caring person with a good sense of humor, even when it was at his own expense. He was devoted to Kathie and to their daughters, Jodi and Heidi. The three of them survive him, along with Tom's brother David, of Creswell, Oregon; Heidi's husband Jerome Yeagle; and grandchildren Joshua and Holly Yeagle, of Abingdon, Maryland. Tom's mother and father predeceased him.
The family has decided to postpone an event to celebrate Tom's life until later in the year. Kathie said those who wish to make gifts in Tom's memory may donate to the Willamette Valley Hospice, which provided his end-stage care. Final details were handled by Virgil T. Golden Funeral Service.