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Posted by on November 26, 2014

/>Zaca Mariners racoons 055My lifelong friend, Thom Nulty, passed away last night. He died in an airport. Boarding a plane. Fitting.
In the mid-60s, after we had both gotten out of the service, Thom and I headed to Palm Springs to enjoy the annual ritual of Spring Break. We barely had enough money to gas up his corvette, so we were counting on meeting some attractive women who also happened to have a room. Well, our plan did not exactly work out, so about 2AM the first night, Thom and I liberated two lounges from poolside at the Indian Dunes motel and hoisted them onto the roof. The flat roof had one of those stub walls around it, so no one could see us and we could see nothing but stars. We slept on that rooftop for three nights. On the fourth day, Thom debated whether to give up this idyllic experience in order to make a job interview in LA with American Airlines. We left. He got the job and a week later I interviewed, got hired, but I opted to return to school. Thom signed on, quickly moved from agent to management, and left American as a vice-president in order to become the president of Continental Airlines. Thus began his long career in the airlines and travel business, a stint that included his favorite job: VP of Aloha Airlines, where he met the love of his life, Carolyn. He became the go-to guy on the Today Show, whenever they needed to interview anyone about the airlines. Though he was completely an industry guy, he also managed to always be himself and I guess that came across to viewers, as they invited him back for many years.
Christened Cecil Thomas Nulty, Thom was adopted by loving parents. He considered himself fortunate and subsequently doted on his Mom the rest of her life, as she doted on him. In high school, he was a State champion swimmer, always had the cleanest, coolest car, and was always up for a good time, a good laugh, or a beautiful woman. Once you were Thom’s friend, you were a friend for life and this seemed to be somewhat the same with lovers. For Thom had a special gift. All of his ex-girlfriends continued to adore him. It amazed me that every girl he went with…and they were multitude…remained his friend and he theirs. I suspect that this was because he was basically a very nice guy.
He also had another gift. He was severely dyslexic. He did not even realize it until he was half way through his life. He was watching a TV show on dyslexia in children and saw himself, realizing that he had spent a lifetime in school and business creating private work-arounds for his limitation. Tall and handsome at 6’4 or 5, Thom once shared that his greatest fear had been the specter of being called upon to read in class. And yet, Thom managed to be highly successful in life, because despite what he may have lacked in decoding skills, he had a remarkable way with people…an ability to set them at ease, to listen, to care, and to lead.
Several years ago, Thom suffered an aneurism followed by a secondary brain hemorrhage and spent many weeks in a coma. His recovery was painfully slow. He had been all but dead and he looked it. But he approached recovery the way that he did all else, with heart and determination. Carolyn had been fighting cancer and he wished to remain with her, to care for her…which he did until her recent passing. He also made a bucket list of people and places to see, adopted a new dog (his beloved dog, Nicor, died the same day as Carolyn) and set out on a 50 day road trip across the USA, visiting old friends and seeing the country that he had long flown over. He returned just before his 69th birthday at the first of this month. We made plans together for the coming holidays, but he would not be coming for Thanksgiving because he was taking a trip with his son, Michael, to Dubai. Michael was with him when he died in D.C.
When we said goodbye, he said “Love you, Pal”, just as he always did. That was who he was; unashamed to care deeply. Well, I love you right back, Thom. Always will.

7 Responses to Thom

  1. Mayo

    Condolences, Dennis. Very touching story. He sounds like a great guy and a great friend.

  2. Meredy Benson Rice

    Thom was, indeed, a wonderful man and I loved him very much. He made me feel included, made me laugh out loud, and his stories were perpetually entertaining. I feel tremendously honored that I had the opportunity to get to know him and call him a friend. Love you Thom. xxx

  3. eileen

    Dennis, my heart is with you as I know how close you & Thom were. I will forever remember him with a smile, and hopefully soon with a laugh again as I think of some of the crazy/fun times we shared. I didn’t get to see him as much these past few decades, but as you said, he kept his friends for life….so sweetly demonstated by how he would check in with me after my surgery last year. I loved this wonderful man, RIP Thom.

  4. Sharon Ortale

    If anyone could write so eloquently about our dear friend, I would have nominated you. These are beautiful words, Dennis. We will certainly miss him, his smile, and big heart that he wore on his sleeve. RIP, Dear Thom.

  5. collie

    Dennis, I am so very sad to read this. Thom was a special guy, so friendly, sincere, funny and sweet . . . I am so sorry for your loss, I know how close your friendship was; this must have been heartbreaking news to receive.
    Such a wonderful person, gone too soon.

  6. Lou Vigorita

    Thanks for writing this Dennis. It helps to read about your friend and your relationship. I feel as if I knew him. I do know you, a little, and see your loss in your words. I also feel the loss in another sense. ” no man is an island..” and it soothes the soul just a little for our other losses experienced. Thank you for sharing this with us. ” love ya pal!”

  7. Bill Mangold

    I loved Thom’s term Pal as mentioned in your article and we were Pal’s! He was blessed to complete his USA bucket list trip and get a ride to Heaven in a 747. Good by for now Thom and I will be joining you someday. Save a seat for me.

    Loved you,


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