A View From Glen Hill: Two of a kind

They were two of a kind, Tom Adams and Thomas (T.J.) Tunney. Their passing so close in time leaves a very big hole in our community. Each had many professional accomplishments and awards for outstanding service. It is not those that are my focus here, however. Rather it is the remarkable similarity of the two in character and the resulting impact for the good on so many lives, including of young people over multiple generations.

Those who knew them well have a wealth of anecdotes. Longtime Wilton residents call Sgt. Tunney their second father who, when they were young, would commend them when they did something good and yet also had an uncanny sense of when something bad was about to go down and nipped it (and them!) in the bud.

For Tom Adams, the stories are legion about “the most well-painted fence in town” that resulted from his representation of young people in run-ins with the law, taking as his fee that fence painting. He went well beyond simply representing them: he counseled and helped them to a better way forward.

The story of Sgt. Tunney’s impact extends also to his fellow officers. One of the many he mentored, Sgt. David Hartman, said, “[Telling] only one story of so many: When T.J. was training me 17 years ago, we picked up a homeless person wandering along Route 7 late at night. He didn’t want to go to a homeless shelter; so we transported him to Dunkin Donuts and when the man stated he was very hungry but didn’t have any money, T.J. bought him a sandwich and a drink with his own money. T.J. showed the man compassion and gave me a life lesson at the same time.”  

Capt. John Lynch, a contemporary of Sgt. Tunney’s on the force, said of him, “He lived his life serving others. … He would buy Thanksgiving dinner for officers and take holiday shifts for them so that they could spend time with their families…. He got more thank-you letters from the public than any other officer by far.” Among Sgt. Tunney’s many other accomplishments was his outstanding work as one of the chief liaisons with CERT helping in training and keeping CERT volunteers safe “on the job” especially when directing traffic or around downed power lines. He was also a faithful attendee of Wi-ACT’s annual benefit concerts both to support its meal-packaging work and to support the concert’s magnificent soprano soloist, fellow Officer Anna Rita Tornello.

When you spoke with T.J., his warmth and peacefulness of soul absolutely radiated and you always knew you had his full attention. Speaking similarly of “his mentor, second father, and always friend” in his eulogy for Tom Adams, his law partner Matt Mason noted that even when Matt was just an 18-year-old intern in the offices of Gregory and Adams, Tom would take him to lunch and “make me feel like I was the person he would rather be talking with more than any other person in the world!” Likewise Kathy Welling, Tom’s colleague in many important volunteer roles for our town, said of him, “His influence on young and old alike was enormous…. When Tom met our son, Alex (then 13), he asked if he’d read one of his favorite Hemingway books, The Sun Also Rises. When Alex answered no, he hadn’t, they struck a deal: if Alex read the Hemingway book, Tom would read Alex’s favorite Hunter Thompson book, and then they would have lunch to discuss them. There began a wonderful relationship.” Matt Mason also observed that whether it was an important client or a restaurant waiter, Tom treated everyone with dignity, thoughtfulness, and full engagement and they responded with deep affection for him.    

Tom’s law partner Casey Healy recalled that “Tom worked with Charles Dana, whose many charitable endeavors included donating the land that now is Merwin Meadows. He also arranged the donation of the Dana Barn, now the Christmas Barn, to the Historical Society, and the Dana House, now Trackside Teen Center, to the town. And he brokered the agreement between St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church and Wilton Presbyterian Church that resulted in their joint campus.”

These two men left their mark not only in the grand matters for which they rightly received distinguished public accolades but also in the everyday circumstances of life where even in seemingly small encounters, they made a real difference in people’s lives. For all of us, they offer an example of the life well and richly lived.