At the end of his 66 years, Tom Carter was about as good as we get around here.
A local kid, who stayed local, went to San Diego State, worked for some local banks and made a bunch of money in real estate. He knew just about everybody, served on lots of community boards and ran for mayor – unsuccessfully. Despite his local limits, he somehow brought a very non-San Diego worldliness to it all. He wanted to do great things and see others step up.
In a city preoccupied with obsequiousness and devoted to happy talk, Tom spoke out when he saw a scram that just wasn’t right. He cheered for good guys and openly booed the bad. He stayed courageous. That’s big stuff in this city.
I got to know Tom well when we served together on the Ballpark Task Force, a job promised to take about 90 days, which lasted just under two years. Tom was the guy that knew downtown. He knew the history, the manipulations, the players, plays – he knew it all.
He was one of the guys that really wanted the ballpark to happen. A rah-rah of sorts. But, he still wanted to see the specifics of the plans. He wanted it to be fair. He asked the questions that were considered by some to be intemperate – they were. You could always tell because others around him would start checking their phone messages and moving backwards out of camera site lines. During construction, he led the group publicly objecting to the proposed reduction of the public park facility that had been an important part of the public’s “deal” as he remembered it. Didn’t win that one, but he was right.
One of his many passions was San Diego State. He was a big guy on state’s Research Foundation for a long time, and worked for decades to see the entitlements and permitting of the Paseo project, state’s $300 million dollar new “front door” with retail, housing and parking. Sadly, as with so many other big projects that require commitment and resolve, this one floundered as it approached fruition, causing Tom to politely resign from the Foundation and abandon the project he admired so much and worked so hard to achieve. But, he did not go quietly – reminding everyone that would listen what a mistake it would be to miss this one time opportunity that took over 16 years to plan.
Tom was a one man “loyal opposition” to stuff he knew was not right. Polite, well mannered, but insistent. Sometimes he won, sometimes lost, but he was never cowed.
I had a chance to visit with Tom just a few weeks ago at his office and he looked … well … great. He was, as always, opinionated, engaged, discouraged, delighted and visionary. He was going to meet with the mayor on the Paseo project and had other projects and issues to discuss with the players downtown. He was still on his regular weekly golf schedule. He had a great smile. This was from a guy that had been battling about every type of cancer you can think of for as long as I knew him.
This brings me to enjoying every sandwich. Which leads to Warren Zevon, and now to Tom Carter.
Warren was a talented but certainly outside rock musician (wrote and sang favorites like “Werewolves of London” and the always popular “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner” – you no doubt have these in your CD library). He is remembered for the fact that he wrote unique music, and the following.
In 2002 he developed Mesothelioma, a lung cancer caused by breathing air born asbestos. With just months to live, Zevon went public with his prognosis, but completed a final album of music and performed regularly with exceptional cheer and a genuine courage. When asked if there was any thought he could share with the rest of us given his experience, he thought for a moment and said, “enjoy every sandwich.” And, he did.
There are some folks that are stand up people and cool to have around because they bring the real stuff with them all the time. No matter what.
We cheer for them because they contribute well no matter the difficulty. They enjoy every sandwich.
Warren Zevon was like that.
And so was Tom Carter.
– PAT SHEA