The following is a tribute to and remembrance of longtime WDET and Detroit Today listener Tom Wilson (“Tom from Northwest Detroit”) by Stephen Henderson:
We wake each day right now to the probability of loss.
Someone we know. Someone in our family. Someone once or twice removed from our immediate circle, inside that two degrees of separation that exists in big little cities like Detroit.
COVID -19 is a ravenous and cruel menace, a tornado of tragedy that takes from us randomly, and without warning or apology.
LISTEN: Stephen Henderson pays heartfelt tribute to Tom Wilson on Detroit Today
Over the past few weeks, I think the distinctions among us have been redefined along COVID lines. It has either stolen from you, or it is about to. Once the cycle of loss starts, it just repeats, and grows.
If you are a regular listener of Detroit Today, you might until today have been in that latter category, still waiting for COVID-19 to take the first person from your world.
But now, you’ve lost someone too. Someone who was a big part of the community we’ve built on the program.
Tom Wilson was a retired Detroit teacher and community activist who was living his best life — enjoying his wife and family and working, always, to make Detroit and Detroiters better.
He was by far the most frequent caller to this show — “Tom, from Northwest Detroit.” Usually the first to jingle the lines here once the show started, and for more than a decade, the most consistent voice, other than mine or another host, to shape the discussion here.
We talked with Tom in the last few weeks about COVID-19, and the response of government to the pandemic.
“It’s really hard to imagine what this show will be like without someone like Tom, who had become as familiar to me as the chair I sit in to do the show every day, or the microphone I use.” - Stephen Henderson.
Early in the pandemic, he called to tell us how he was managing the stay-at-home order, how he was dealing with the isolation from friends and neighbors.
“I make it a point — I’m not out long — but I make it a point to get out every day,” he told me on March 24. ”I do a little bit of yard work and what have you. I mean, just go out on your front porch or your back deck or whatever. Just stand there, get some fresh air and some sunshine, it makes the day better.”
It was quintessential Tom — always looking for ways to boost what’s good, what’s positive, and what’s possible.
Tom died Wednesday of COVID-related illness.
I didn’t know he was sick. I didn’t know he was in mortal danger.
I simply learned, through social media, that he was gone.
Gone from his family, and the community he spent years fighting for.
And gone from this program, where callers like him are not just ornamentation. They are the trunk of our discussions, the very basis for our reckoning with issues and stories that define this community.
It’s really hard to imagine what this show will be like without someone like Tom, who had become as familiar to me as the chair I sit in to do the show every day, or the microphone I use.
I knew Tom in the real world, too, as a committed Detroiter and someone who was at every panel discussion or community meeting. He was one of the most earnest people I knew. One of the most engaged. And just a gentle, optimistic man. He was exactly the kind of listener and caller we love and need, especially right now, when so much seems upside down and crazy.
“This feels like someone is pulling the innards away from this community, just grabbing vital organs and tissue and ripping them away, over and over. I wonder each night when I wind down the day, what will be left when this is over. What we will be able to salvage of our sense of self and community.” - Stephen Henderson
But like so many others, his presence has been wiped away by this vicious pandemic. In an instant, none of us will ever talk with him again.
It’s difficult to put into words what we’re experiencing during this extraordinary turn of events.
This feels like someone is pulling the innards away from this community, just grabbing vital organs and tissue and ripping them away, over and over. I wonder each night when I wind down the day, what will be left when this is over. What we will be able to salvage of our sense of self and community.
We will be so different, and diminished. We will be so hurt, and confused.
This is another gaping wound in a series that have been inflicted on this community over the past month. I know it won’t be the last, and the prospect of more - more loss, more tragedy — well, it is just becoming overwhelming.
I think Tom, of all people, would be counseling right now against despair. He’d be talking about how we could persevere, how we could beat the virus and reclaim our lives.
There’s not just irony in that. There’s strength. And hope. I think Tom would want everyone to double down on that strength and hope, rather than wallow in the loss.
He’d want us to stand in, keep fighting — and eventually, to overcome this madness.
We’ll do that. I know we will.
“I’ve got a T-Shirt that says… ‘You stand for something or you die for nothing.’ And I figure if you can’t say what you want to say and then back it up, I mean, why even go there?” Tom said during an on-air panel of listeners and frequent callers on WDET’s The Craig Fahle Show in August of 2014. ”That’s just me. I mean, you know, whatcha see is whatcha get as the Dramatics (say).”
We wish Tom’s family comfort and peace, and we wish him Godspeed in the afterlife.