Thomas P. "Tucker" Welch Jr.
Thomas P. Welch, Jr., 83, of Middletown, RI, passed away August 1, 2021, after an extended illness. He was born on February 18, 1938 to Thomas P. Welch, Sr., and Anna (Toppa) Welch of Newport. He is survived by his high-school sweetheart and wife of 61 years Cynthia (Hammett), children Tom III and wife Cheryl (Crockett) of Middletown, Michael and wife Karolyn (Klinger) of Framingham, MA, and Melissa and husband George Krol of Middletown; grandchildren Tom IV, Chris, Ben, Dan, Kevin, David, Alison, and Amber; and great-grandchildren Isla, Ellie, Tom V, Henry, Everett, and a player to be named soon. He also leaves a sister, Maryellen (Jack) Kane, many nieces and nephews, and countless cousins.
Growing up in the Fifth Ward, he was nicknamed "Tucker" (it could've been worse) and raised in a house on Potter Street near his grandparents, Guistino and Falconella (Dimatteo) Toppa, surrounded by family, friends, and neighbors. He and his cousin Jimmy spent endless hours crabbing at King's Park and venturing out to Middletown where his uncle John built a house on Easton's Point. He attended Carey and John Clarke schools and graduated from De La Salle Academy in 1955. While pursuing a business degree at the University of Rhode Island, he was the head of his fraternity Phi Gamma Delta and joined the Army ROTC, which led to an eight-year stint in the Army reserves. After graduating from URI in 1959, he returned to Newport to join his father in the plumbing and heating business, which was duly expanded to become Thomas P. Welch & Son.
With his father, Tucker worked in many of the "big houses" on Bellevue Avenue and Ocean Drive, performing the annual ritual of getting the houses ready for their summer inhabitants and shutting them down again for winter. The business flourished by word of mouth and reputation alone and, with his services always in high demand, Tucker tried to keep a low profile around town. He always drove an unmarked blue van and his "uniform" never varied: navy blue shirt, khaki pants, and work boots, with the addition of a sweater, handknit by his mother, in cooler weather. For long-standing customers, he kept copies of their house keys in a Newport Creamery ice cream container under the seat of his van so he could make service calls with as little disturbance as possible. His "shop" in the Fifth Ward was a time capsule of fittings and fixtures dating back to the Gilded Age, with every type of tool imaginable, not to mention an old tractor and a canvas canoe he and Cynthia used to paddle around the waterways near URI.
Tucker regularly worked six days a week, but always made it home for dinner with the family, except for those special evenings when they were invited to dine on his mother's homemade raviolis, followed by a big slice of lemon chiffon pie. His idea of a day off was to work on the 19th Century farmhouse and barn he and Cynthia bought "way out in the country" (in Middletown), where he also honed his carpentry skills by building a smaller house next door. Once the kids were grown, he and Cynthia moved into the smaller house while son Tom and his expanding family took up residence in the old farmhouse. Though Tucker's dream of having a farm never quite materialized, he happily allowed his neighbor George Cardoza to graze his cows in the field behind the house. In the 1970s, Tucker served on the Middletown Planning Board, was chair of the Middletown Republican Committee, and made a brief foray into local politics until the unsavory nature of election competition led him to abandon such pursuits.
A few times a year, the family would pack up and head to Vermont to a small cabin Tucker built with the help of his good friend Ralph Perry. Many happy memories were made in the Vermont house, whether skiing and sledding in the winter, haying with the Coleman family in the summer, or sitting around the fire in the evening without the distraction of TV or telephone. Tucker relished the chance to rise before dawn and walk up the dirt road to the Coleman's farm to join them in the milking parlor or the saw mill; he even donned snowshoes to help gather sap for maple sugaring in early spring. Through the generosity of a dear family friend, he became steward of an area of wooded farmland in New Hampshire where he and Cynthia cleared a small lot and built another cabin, with the help of his trusty bulldozer, Bob. He greatly enjoyed following the old paths through the woods and down to the pond, where beavers regularly felled trees to add to their lodge.
Though work and family always came first, his one indulgence was tennis. As a teenager, he not only played in high school and college, but also had a summer job at Bailey's Beach giving lessons and filling in for any members who needed an extra player. He loved to tell the story of the time a young US Senator named Jack Kennedy brought a fellow senator for a match at the beach. The visiting senator lacked appropriate footwear, so Tucker lent him his tennis shoes, only to find them stretched out beyond repair upon return. For many years Tucker seldom missed a weekly match at the Casino with fellow veterans of the game, including Bill and Ned Corcoran, Bud Turano, and Frank Guy. Their skill and finesse, along with their good-humored jibes and well-honed trick shots, often drew a crowd, especially when they were granted an opportunity to play on the fabled Horseshoe Court.
In later years, a love of travel took hold, beginning with a trip to England and Wales where daughter Melissa was studying. Many more overseas excursions followed, including to Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Russia, and various European destinations, as well as bringing his mother back to her family village in Lettomanopello, Italy, and visiting his father's ancestral homeland of Ireland. After retiring, he and Cynthia fulfilled a lifelong dream of traveling throughout the United States in an RV, embarking on multiple trips during the winter months before eventually making a more permanent stop in Bonita Springs, Florida, where Tucker found plenty of seasonal tennis partners while Cynthia joined various community activities.
At home in Middletown, Tucker enjoyed watching his grandchildren and great-grandchildren fill out the family compound while the annual family pig roast gave him an opportunity to show off his volleyball and horseshoe skills. His legacy continues to live on in his many descendants who reflect his love of family and community, tools and tinkering, farms and forests, and – who knows? – maybe one of the great-grandkids will pick up a tennis racquet one day and discover an innate talent for delivering a wicked top-spin.
Funeral arrangements will be private; a memorial event will be held at a later date. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Alzheimer's Association
). A Facebook page has been established for comments and condolences, and the family welcomes any stories, photos, or memories of Tucker: Thomas P. Welch Jr. Memory Page.
Published by Newport Daily News from Aug. 2 to Aug. 4, 2021.