“The Art of Losing,” the title of the last chapter in Tom Hart’s collection of essays about running and Concord, borrows a famous first phrase from an Elizabeth Bishop poem, but the soul of the book owes more to his fellow Concordian Henry David Thoreau.
A former girls’ cross-country running coach and English teacher at Concord-Carlisle High School, Mr. Hart liked to take students to visit Walden Pond. In his book “First You Run, Then You Walk,” he brought a Thoreau-like attentiveness to examining his years of running, and what happened when a cancer diagnosis slowed his stride to a walk.
Ostensibly a look at what he lost to cancer, Mr. Hart’s final chapter was as much about what he found during decades out on the roads.
“You can’t misrepresent yourself running, or at least you can’t in the sense that you can’t not train and then go out and run a marathon,” he wrote. “You see your true self in your running, even if at times that self might be one you’re not comfortable about seeing.”
Mr. Hart, who also had been a book seller, editor, and literary agent, died Dec. 29 in Massachusetts General Hospital. He was 68 and had lived in Concord since 1994.
For 25 years he taught at Concord-Carlisle and was pleased to live a town that was home to some of his literary influences.
“I think he really connected with his surroundings,” said his son Eamonn of Washington, D.C. “He loved the Town of Concord, and he didn’t just love living there, he loved everything about being there. I think he felt very connected on a greater level. This is where he was meant to be.”
At Concord-Carlisle, “his desk in the English department served as a safe haven from day-to-day high school life,” Jessica Minty, a former student who Mr. Hart coached, wrote in an e-mail.
“He helped me become a better writer through his English classes and introduced me to one of my favorite books,” Minty wrote. “Most importantly though, Tom helped develop my passion for running.”
Cassi Knight, another former Concord-Carlisle runner, wrote in an e-mail that Mr. Hart “was one of the most positive, enthusiastic, and fiercely passionate people I have ever had the privilege to know.”
As a senior, Knight recalled, she often stopped at his office to talk about race strategy or goals for a meet, “but then he would always ask, ‘And how are you doing?’ He cared so much for his athletes, and it showed in the strength of the team. Any goal I had was never unattainable, it was always a question of what we needed to do to make it happen. I owe not only all my running success to Mr. Hart, but also much of my strength as a person.”
Mr. Hart, who was the Globe’s All-Scholastic girls’ cross-country coach of the year in 2004, formerly chaired the English department and had “a quality of patience with people who were under his direction,” said Jeremiah Mead, a retired Concord-Carlisle Latin teacher.
Sporting a bow tie when not clad in running clothes, Mr. Hart “was very dapper,” said his wife, Christopher Jane Corkery, a poet and essayist. “He was funny, quite witty, gregarious, cheerful, but intellectually extremely acute.”
And though Mr. Hart wrote essays, “he loved poetry,” she said. “He could quote a lot of poetry. Being with him for some conversation, 90 percent of the time he would come up with lines from poetry or fiction.”
Born in Mount Kisco, N.Y., Thomas Seymour Hart graduated from Greenwich High School in Connecticut and in 1966 from Trinity College in Hartford. The following year, he received a master’s in teaching from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
He taught in Pelham, N.Y., for three years before attending Yale Divinity School.
His marriage to Marcia Fee, with whom he had a daughter, Rebecca, now of Florence, ended in divorce.
Mr. Hart moved to Cambridge, where he served ice cream at Baskin-Robbins and worked at Harvard Book Store. He became a sales representative for Random House, and an editor at Houghton Mifflin, where he edited a poetry series and a fiction series.
In his early 30s, he took up running, competing in races such as the Boston Marathon, and even going for a 37-mile run on his 37th birthday.
He also met Corkery. They married in 1979 and have two sons, Patrick of New York City, and Eamonn.
“I don’t exactly wish to make the claim that running made me a grown-up,” Mr. Hart wrote in his book, “but I know its arrival in my life coincided to some degree with my reaching that state of being.”
In 1983, two years before he began teaching at Concord-Carlisle, Mr. Hart started a literary agency.
“Tom was not just an agent for authors but an agent for literature itself,” the writer Lewis Hyde, who was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 1991, wrote in an e-mail. “From his early work as a book seller, to his days as a Houghton Mifflin editor, to his long service teaching in the Concord schools, Tom embodied the highest kind of care for writing and for writers.”
A service has been held for Mr. Hart, who in addition to his wife, daughter, and two sons leaves a sister, Hilary of Valatie, N.Y.; a brother, Rick of Northampton; and two grandchildren.
“He was such a man of intellect,” Eamonn said. “He worked with words and was an English teacher, but he was more than that. He was a writer. He loved writing for himself and for others.”
Mr. Hart also played guitar, sang, and his tastes ranged from Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry to Tracy Chapman, Tom Waits, and jazz standards like “Don’t Get Around Much Any More.”
It was through running, though, and writing about it afterward, that Mr. Hart found ways to pay as close attention to his own life as Thoreau had to his at Walden Pond.
In his book, which his family plans to publish, Mr. Hart wrote about finishing work in Boston years ago. He wanted to run home to Somerville, but had forgotten his running clothes, so he ran the seven miles “perfectly happily in my khakis and an only semi-buttoned dress shirt.”
“I was sweaty and bedraggled, and had a new understanding of the practicality of normal running apparel,” he wrote. “But I’d also had a lesson in the silliness of thinking I had to look ‘runnerly’ in any special way while running. No one had hooted or hollered or poked fun at the guy running in long pants and a dress shirt – basically, I’d made it home unnoticed, abandoning my own self-consciousness along the way.”