While studying at Boston College, Tom McCormack joined the Jesuit order and set out on a path that would weave and meander before finishing close to where he started.
At one point he chose to live among the poor in the Columbia Point housing project while teaching at Boston College High School. After leaving the Jesuits as he was on the cusp of ordination, he counseled laid-off workers, taught inmates, helped working-class women acquire job skills, co-owned beauty salons, and worked for a quarter-century in cable TV sales and advertising.
Nine days after retiring in 2007, he began volunteering for the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, which soon hired him to become manager of donor relations and communications. Some of his favorite moments, though, were getting to know the homeless women and men whose life stories he captured for the organization’s newsletter.
“I can say this is the last job I’ll ever have, and it’s the best job I’ve ever had,” he told the Weymouth News in 2008.
“It was the first time since the Jesuits that he was able to so fully merge his intrinsic values to love and serve others with what he was doing,” said his brother, John, of Augusta, Ga. “They were one.”
Mr. McCormack, who at 60 began competing in marathons, a discipline he savored for the long conversations it afforded with other runners, died July 5 in his North Weymouth home. He was 71 and had been diagnosed about two years ago with cancer of the esophagus.
“Tom had an easy way about him, but he did not tolerate injustice very well at all,” said Cheryl Kane, director of nursing at Boston Health Care for the Homeless. “He was very curious about why this was happening, why that was happening, and he always wanted to know more and more about our patients. He always had time to listen.”
That mixture of curiosity and generosity defined Mr. McCormack’s life, and it led him to often engage in lengthy discussions with those he encountered.
“The interesting thing about Tom is that he had a curiosity about everything,” said his longtime friend Jim Liedtka of Scituate.
“There was never an easy answer,” said his friend Chris Toal of Framingham who, like Mr. McCormack, joined the Jesuits and then left. “Tom loved to probe. The best answer was the nuance.”
Though intellectually nourishing, talking wasn’t enough for Mr. McCormack, who touched uncounted lives through his work and his unheralded offers of assistance.
“He was the nicest guy you’d ever want to meet. He was always doing the right thing,” said his wife, Ellen. “He seemed to know what somebody else was suffering through, and he was always there to support you.”
John McCormack said his brother’s principles “guided him in his day-to-day decisions. Living them out is what gave him a rich and meaningful life.”
“His core values included loving people and serving people,” he added, “and he developed those young in life, and they continued to be the drumbeat that drove him.”
Born in Boston, Thomas Paul McCormack grew up in West Roxbury, the second of three children whose father worked for the telephone company and was active in unions.
Mr. McCormack graduated from Boston Latin School and studied English at Boston College, from which he received a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree.
After a dozen years with the Jesuits, the time arrived for ordination, but he could not take that step.
“In theology, you learn that faith is a gift, and I guess neither Tom nor I were given the gift,” Toal said. “The thing we loved about the Jesuits was the sense of community, the relationships they had with each other. They helped us be clear and be critical thinkers, but at the end of the day, the critical thinking led us away from faith, I guess.”
Mr. McCormack was married for 32 years to the former Ellen Cullen, whom he met when they worked together.
“Tom recently said he first fell in love with Ellen’s eyes,” his brother said in a eulogy.
“I really liked his philosophy, his manner,” she said. “He was a very fair-minded person, always wanting to do the right thing. If there was somebody on the side of the road, he’d be the guy to stop.”
At Boston Health Care for the Homeless, Mr. McCormack wove together the threads of his life.
“Because he had been an English teacher when he was young, he had a wonderful way of being able to communicate to the public our story and the stories of our patients and the services we provide,” Kane said.
A service has been held for Mr. McCormack, who in addition to his wife and brother leaves a sister, Marguerite of Quincy.
As Mr. McCormack’s health failed, friends and colleagues gathered at his bedside to offer comfort to the man who had often helped them in their own moments of need.
“I clearly saw Tom as shepherd, guide, comforter, playmate, and most of all a friend to the so many people he loved,” his brother said in his eulogy. “For his own reasons, Tom years ago declined ordination to the religious priesthood, but he held firmly to his vocation as community priest. When others were wounded, confused, lost, or a bit lonely, Tom was consistently there to minister to each.”