Those of us who were great friends of Tom Malinowski were terribly saddened to learn of his sudden and untimely death on August 1 at the age of 61. Tom was a member of this Association for thirty years, and his father Joe Malinowski is still a life member. It is my privilege as his great friend to write a few words to celebrate Tom’s life.
Tom was born in Buffalo New York, to Joe and Mary, and moved to Maryland as a child with his 3 brothers Paul, John and Rich, and sister Mary . He went to Good Counsel High School, and then began his college career using what he called the multi-school plan, attending Frostburg and Montgomery College before graduating from Maryland. Along the way he had the good fortune to marry his wife Frances, and worked as a court clerk in the Small Claims division of the Superior Court in DC while putting himself through school. He attended the International School of Law in Northern Virginia, and was instrumental in securing that school’s accreditation as it became a part of George Mason University.
I first met Tom when we were both fresh out of law school, and were law clerks in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County. Tom was law school friends with Judge Patty Mitchell, who was part of our law clerk class, along with current Judge Mary Beth McCormick. He clerked for the Hon. Ralph Miller, who unfortunately passed away during Tom’s year. Tom was so well liked in the courthouse that they kept him on working with the clerk’s office and other judges until our year was up.
Tom then went into private practice with his father Joe. He idolized his Dad, and was very proud to practice law with him before eventually having his own law practice. Tom practiced civil litigation and specialized in subrogation work, often going to court with fifty cases on his docket in a single day. It was a testament to Tom’s personality that the clerks in the Superior Court to this day remember him fondly not only from his days in the clerk’s office, but those long dockets he handled as a lawyer.
He then went to work in GEICO’s Home Office claims legal department, where he worked for almost twenty years. The outpouring of affection for Tom at his viewing and funeral from his colleagues at GEICO was heartwarming, as they honored his meticulous work as a lawyer overseeing serious litigation in various jurisdictions around the country, but more importantly his generosity in helping others in his office, and his great humor and friendship. Tom took pride in his work as a lawyer, but as my wife said to me, Tom was wise enough to work to live, not live to work. So many of us get that backwards, but he never did, and the result was a happy man.
It was Tom’s great love of golf, second in his heart only to his love for his family, that led to he and I becoming golfing buddies and friends for 32 years. I have never known anyone who loved to play golf more, but it paled in comparison to his love for his family. There’s an old Irish proverb that says: A man loves his sweetheart the most, his wife the best, but his mother the longest. Tom was always devoted to his Mom, as well as his father.
As to the other two parts of that saying, Tom was blessed to have Frances as his sweetheart and his wife, and that never changed for all the time I’ve known him. We guys aren’t given to waxing poetic about our brides, but I’ve never known anybody who was crazier about his wife than Tom. He and Fran were joined at the hip, and other than his hours on the golf course if there was anything that did not include Fran it wasn’t worth doing.
Tom was also the proudest father I’ve ever known. From the moment his daughter Katrina was born, he was as pleased as he could be about everything she did. Tom was so proud of his Kate, from her accomplishments as a linguist to her choice of a husband, Ken. Not that anyone could be good enough for her, of course, but if she was Kate’s choice then that was fine with him.
There is another old proverb that says when a father gives to his son, both laugh; when a son gives to his father, both cry. Tom gave so much of his time to his son Chris, including early morning treks to hockey rinks, which I always thought explained Tom’s love of the Washington Capitals. But Tom also got a lot back from his son, from pride in his accomplishments as a hockey and football athlete, to Chris’ service to his country as a Marine fighting in Iraq, to seeing him become the fine young man he is.
I remember when Kate first got married, Tom told me he wasn’t sure he was ready to be a grandfather, it might make him feel old. That of course was long before his granddaughter Julia came along just eight months ago, who of course won his heart right away. In these short months that she was in his life, she became another great joy to add to his family.
Tom also knew that a lot of times life wasn’t fair, which he knew first hand from the deaths of his brothers Paul and Rich. I have to tell you Tom’s first reaction if had any inkling that he would pass on so prematurely would be to be pretty mad about it. He took good care of himself, and I can hear him now complaining about giving up his ice cream. It’s not fair that Julia won’t get to grow up with Tom to be there-or that Fran does not get to grow old with him by her side. As it was, in his joy for life he was the youngest 61 year old ever.
Tom had one of the great laughs of all time, and he was a very funny man, who enjoyed making fun of himself rather than making a joke at anyone else’s expense. It is hard for me to even conceive going on and playing golf without him, though I am sure he would say to me, “Bud, you’ll never learn to putt if you do that.” And if he couldn’t teach me, I probably never will learn to putt.
My abiding memory of Tom will always be one moment at Kate’s outdoor wedding, in which the two great loves of his life-his family and golf-were captured best. As he and Kate came outside to begin the walk down the aisle, the wind was howling off the bay, and Kate was struggling to keep her veil from blowing over her face. Tom then leaned over and said something to her, and suddenly they both began to laugh and started down the aisle. Afterwards I had to know what he had said, and it was: “You know Kate, that’s a 2 club wind.” That was Tom.
The lesson to learn from someone who lived a great life like Tom is not to spout platitudes about stopping to smell the roses, because you never know when a life may suddenly end. Tom always lived in the moment, always cherished those he loved and had plenty of laughter along the way. I intend to think of him in heaven staying occupied playing the greatest of all golf courses, until his Fran joins him again. He will be sorely missed.
Tom Ryan, Esquire