by Ken Sehested
Composed on 23 September 2020
My friend Tom Walsh died last night. He was among the kindest, most gentle, intelligent person I have ever known. When I read the Beatitudes and get to “Blessed are the pure of heart,” Tom’s face appears in my mind’s eye.
He was also passionate about the Gospel, and was clear about the fact that the goodness of its news was for the dispossessed and all who took steps to be present to their voices.
He was a lawyer by trade; and he collected lawyer jokes as a hobby, knowing too well the sketchy reputation of lawyers in our litigious society.
I remember one Sunday, decades ago, when we were members of the same congregation in Memphis, the pastor asked several members of the congregation to offer a faith story during worship, talking about how their faith influenced their workaday decisions. Tom was among those.
“Billable hours” was the theme of his story, which at the time was a new phrase to my ears.
He talked about how his law firm—most every law firm—honored those lawyers who, at the end of each year, reported the most billable hours. Which is to say, how much money they raked in for the firm.
Tom admitted that he was always at the bottom of that list. Not because he was lazy or didn’t have a sufficient work ethic. It was because he took on so many pro bono cases.
I did know that phrase, pro bono. It’s when you work for free, for clients who have little or no ability to pay for legal counsel.
Tom wasn’t only lawyerish. He was also the unofficial photographer of Memphis’ minor league baseball team. He and his beloved Jean, who previously died of cancer, were season ticket holders for many years. Tom provided free pictorial mementos and publicity photos for scratch ball players, chasing their dream to make it to The Show, the big league, not yet able to afford agents to promote their careers.
Tom did the right thing without any consideration of being recognized. He did the right thing because it was the right thing.
Our remembered saints provide historical markers for the Spirit’s breakthrough moments for people of faith. But in between, the world is sustained by people like Tom who, without motive or forethought, are virtuous without prompt, like "the yonder myrtle breathes its fragrance into space” (Kahlil Gibran).
His name will forever be extolled by his daughters and their families and a host of others blessed to have crossed his path.
Friend, may the river be good to you in the crossing.