It’s funny how we sometimes react viscerally to the death of an acquaintance. Not a family member or close friend. Not even a neighbor or someone you talked to on a regular basis; rather, a friend-of-a-friend sort. The kind of guy or girl you’ve met and spoke with once or twice and of whom you thought kindly, while all your friends who knew that person well thought the world of him.
That’s the kind of guy Tom Jenkins was, to me. I didn’t know him. I don’t pretend to know him. He was a guy I met through my brother Shawn and his band of friends in my hometown, Bay City, Michigan. Tom was among the group of people who played a role in organizing and hosting the annual Hell’s Half Mile Film & Music Festival. As I understand it, Tom was in charge of booking the bands and handling the music portion of the festival.
I recall meeting Tom in 2011, at the music festival. He was standing near the stage at the Masonic Temple, taking in the band playing. He was wearing a Detroit Tigers baseball cap. While this detail may not seem out of place to my friends in Michigan, that image stuck with me. Perhaps living out of state and not seeing the familiar Olde English “D” very often made Tom’s headgear memorable. My brother, Shawn, introduced us. I shook Tom’s hand and remarked that he was obviously a Jenkins. Tom comes from a large family. Virtually half of Bay City went to school with at least one Jenkins, it seems. I knew his older brother, Rob, and remember Tom when he was a little kid. Those are some of my personal recollections of Tom.
In the three years I attended HHM, I watched the festival grow. Each year, the crowds got bigger, the movies got better and the quality of musicians who took the HHM stage got stronger. Tom’s signature was all over the latter.
During the 2012 HHM Festival, I recall going to lunch with my brother and a few of the event organizers. Tom was among them. Over lunch, they were talking over last-minute preparations for the evening’s closing event: the main stage concert at the Masonic Temple. For me, an outsider to this group, I had next to nothing to contribute to the conversation. But it was fun being a spectator, watching and listening to them pick on one another, goof off a bit and simply enjoy the moment.
A few weeks ago, we learned Tom was diagnosed with melanoma that metastasized to his liver. Serious news, no doubt. But he was fighting it through treatment. Family and friends created a donations site, where people could contribute to Tom’s fight and scheduled benefit events and golf outings to raise money for his cancer fund. I and many others gladly donated to his cause.
I wish I could tell you there is a happy ending to this story, but I can’t. Tom died tonight. He was younger than me.
I don’t know why, but Tom’s death is hitting me sideways. Perhaps because we are close in age, perhaps because there is a group of guys back home in Bay City—people I consider my close friends—who are heartbroken tonight by this news.
Hell’s Half Mile is about three months away and I’m sure Tom and others have been neck-deep in planning and preparation for it. The show will undoubtedly go on, but I have a hunch this year’s festival will be bittersweet and the stage will feel oddly empty without Tom hauling gear, checking mics and introducing the bands.
Since I am hardly one of Tom’s close friends and feel rather sheepish in even writing about him, it’s only appropriate to close with a sentiment from someone who knew him. Without permission and begging forgiveness, I’m going to borrow the words of my friend Jay Glysz, who wrote this of Tom on his Facebook page tonight:
“Godspeed and rest in peace, my brother. You were one of a fucking kind. Much, much love and peace to you…wherever you may travel.”