Befitting one of Santa's most dedicated stand-ins, THOMAS E. WHITESIDE passed away just days before Christmas on December 20, 2005. As always, his family was at his side. Born March 12, 1922 in Tyler, Texas, Tom began life in a country cabin lacking running water or electricity. From humble beginnings, Tom became a beloved husband, father, grandfather, businessman and member of the Texas House of Representatives. He served his country in World War II as a pilot in the U.S. Army Air Corps and later as a civilian instructor pilot for the United States Navy. Returning from war, Tom began attending Tyler Junior College. Later, he attended the University of Texas at Austin while serving as a Representative of Smith and Gregg Counties in the 51st Texas Legislature. Tom was a 32nd degree Mason and active in the Arabia Shrine Temple in Houston. After moving his family from Fort Worth in the 60's, he owned and operated Tom Whiteside Insurance Agency in Houston for many years. The center of Tom's life was always his family. After his father Roger's death, Tom supported and cared for his mother, Vivian Whiteside, from the time he was 18 until her death at the age of 87. While a Representative, Tom married his sweetheart, Betty Whatley, and the two shared life together for 55 years. Tom and Betty's pride and joy were their two sons, Tom M. and Clark, and their grandsons, Mason (10) and Stuart (5). But Tom's family wasn't limited to his household. Tom loved and helped any child he met. He was beloved "Uncle Grandpa" to children at Bethany Christian Church, where he was a member for 40 years. Tom served many years as a Boy Scout leader, volunteered as a Harris County Deputy Sheriff in the Juvenile Division, and in his most treasured role, was the world's greatest Santa Claus. From a single appearance at Memorial Hospital in the 60's, Tom rapidly expanded his volunteer Santa activities to occupy most of December. From hospitals to nursing homes to child care facilities, for more than twenty years Tom never declined a Christmas appeal. There was no doubt that he enjoyed the role more than did the children he met. He was wearing his red Santa hat at his death. Tom is survived by his beloved wife Betty, sons Tom M. and Clark, daughter-in-law Julie McAnally Whiteside, and grandsons Mason and Stuart, all of Houston. He was predeceased by his brother Louie Whiteside. Friends are invited to celebrate Tom's life at a memorial service at Bethany Christian Church, 3223 Westheimer Road, Houston 77098, at 2:00 p.m. on Tuesday, December 27. The family wishes to extend special thanks to the caring staff of Vosswood Nursing Center. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to Bethany Christian Church or a charity of your choice.
Published in Houston Chronicle on Dec. 25, 2005.