“I’m just an old cowboy,” he’d say to me.
He’d duck his head. He’d look away, and after a second he’d rush out all his words to tell me about some great new benefit he was planning, some amazing new project he was doing, or some fantastic new person who had fallen on hard times, but just needed a little extra boost to get back on their feet.
DJ Tommy Dean Salisbury was a man always ready to give that little extra boost.
“How can’t I help?” he’d say.
How can he not help? He couldn’t it wasn’t in Tommy’s character. He had to help. Always.
Tommy was kind when kindness wasn’t cool.
He was also country when country wasn’t cool.
He would blend his love of kindness and his love of country into impossible gifts to our community. With his wife, Agnes, he was a tireless organizer of “Christmas for Families.” When I was a newspaper person, he would bullet into my office armed with stories about need, about people. He’d look me right in the eye and tell me what I could do to help.
There was no way you could turn Tommy down.
There was no way you’d want to.
Thin, quick moving, and sometimes smelling like the bakery, Tommy spent his whole life trying to make things better for people.
Nick Gosling wrote in a November edition of the Ellsworth American, “ Last year’s “Christmas for Families” drew more than 350 people and raised $7,200. Some 193 children, from roughly 130 families living in 13 Hancock County towns, benefited from the program through donations of winter clothing, toys and other items purchased with the funds raised. The needy families, who signed up for assistance through their municipality, also receive a food basket with a holiday dinner.”
That’s a lot of help and that’s just one event. One event in a lifetime of events and interactions and kindness.
I’ve been lucky. I’ve talked to Tommy tons of times. I’d see him in the Mill Mall, or I’d interview him. We had a lot of things in common. We both knew what hard times were. We both knew what it was like to have nothing. And we both knew the joy of having life get better.
Tommy wasn’t afraid to talk about that … not to reporters, not to newspaper editors, not to anyone. He knew that talking about the hard times helps other people get through their own difficulties. He also knew that people struggling need more than talk. They need action.
He told Nick Gosling about those his own hard times too. “I said, ‘At some point, I’ve got to break out of this and when I do, I’m going to help people that are in my situation. And that was the beginning of it, that’s how we started it, but I never knew it would grow into what we’re doing now.”
But it did.
It grew and it grew and even though Tommy died this weekend, it has to keep growing. People have to keep giving. People have to cowboy up the way Tommy did because that is the best way to honor somebody like Tommy. It is a way to spread his caring, his joy and his love.
Johnny Cash wrote: We saw houses falling from the sky Where the mountains lean down to the sand We saw blackbirds circling ’round an old castle keep And I stood on the cliff and held your hand
We walked troubles brooding wind swept hills And we loved and we laughed the pain away At the end of the journey, when our last song is sung Will you meet me in Heaven someday
I don’t know if this song was one of Tommy’s favorites, but he loved his Johnny Cash, and the song works. Tommy laughed and loved many people’s pain away and if there is anyone in Heaven, it’s got to be Tommy.
No matter what he said, Tommy was more than just an old cowboy, more than a baker, an WERU DJ, a song writer, an organizer.. He was a dad and a husband, a brother and a friend. He was a gifted human being who shared his gifts with others. It didn’t matter how. He might give someone a song, a baked good, a benefit or a thought, but he was always giving. He was giving when giving wasn’t cool, and that is why Tommy Dean Salisbury is always going to be one of my heroes.