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Thomas F.X. Cole, 58, newspaperman of many talents

During his newspaper career, Mr. Cole moved from the news side to the business side without losing a step, or friends, along the way.Elizabeth Cooney/2013

Last fall, Tom Cole and his wife, Liz Cooney, traveled to a nephew’s engagement party in California. Such a trip might seem extravagant, but Mr. Cole told his wife: “You know they’re not making that many more Septembers.”

The observation was more an appreciation of what lay ahead than a premonition that it would be his last September. Mr. Cole so looked forward to the future that months earlier, after taking a buyout as the Globe’s executive director of business development, he wrote that he could now “focus on what I want to do for the last third (half?) of my life.”

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“He had lots of plans. We had lots of plans,” his wife said. “A lot of times he would say, ‘Let’s not put things off.’ ”

And he didn’t. Mr. Cole was unusual in that his newspaper career spanned both sides of the divide between news and advertising, and he moved among other talents with equal agility. He played piano and tuba. Friends reveled in his cooking prowess. He helped found the Pancreatic Cancer Alliance to raise funds and awareness after his mother died of the disease. When he became serious about his camera, runners he photographed posted his work on Facebook.

Last year, he got around to running his first half-marathon.

Then on Feb. 17, Mr. Cole was working in his Somerville home when he died, while sitting in a chair, of an apparent heart attack. He was 58.

Mr. Cole brought precise attention to each task he mastered, whether he was in the kitchen or on a roadside photographing his wife racing with the Somerville Road Runners.

“He’d love nothing more than to cook for everyone again,” his son Ben of Brooklyn, N.Y., said in a eulogy at a February memorial service. “My dad took great joy from every phase of a meal: He cultivated relationships with merchants he respected; he amassed an impressive collection of spices, tools, and recipes, and spent years perfecting the details – bits of preparation that, in his hands, made it all look so easy.”

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Mr. Cole “wasn’t just a spectator,” said his wife, who formerly wrote for the Globe’s White Coat Notes blog. “Part of what he loved about playing music – in marching bands or rock bands or at home on the piano – was the thrilling chance to live inside live music, making music as part of a community.”

To those who knew him, it wasn’t surprising that Mr. Cole inspired many fond remembrances. He “so loved a good story,” his sister Mary Beth Curnen of Auburn said in a eulogy. “Like a good story, he quietly worked his magic on all of us. I think he loved stories so much because he truly and deeply loved people.”

That began when Thomas Francis Xavier Cole was born in Springfield, the oldest of Frank J. Cole and the former Irene Pion’s five children. The family lived in South Hadley and moved to Auburn when Mr. Cole was about 12. Growing up, he watched his mother prepare tourtiere, a meat pie that harkened to her French-Canadian ancestry, and after she died, he kept making it every Christmas.

In Auburn’s schools he also became a musician. “Tom’s gifts were many, but to me, it always came back to music,” his brother Michael of Westford said in a eulogy. “He could play just about any instrument, but in marching band he chose the tuba. Who chooses the tuba? Tom did. It was big, it was loud, and he loved it.”

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At Harvard University, from which he graduated in 1980, Mr. Cole studied American history and literature. After college he worked for the Massachusetts Department of Public Works and the Temple, Barker & Sloane consulting firm, neither of which fired his imagination. He eventually joined the Worcester Telegram & Gazette as a copy editor in 1983.

“We spent many a dark hour despairing together over stories that sometimes seemed to have no beginning, middle, or end – or indeed, any point at all,” Jim Fox, a longtime friend and former Worcester colleague, said in a eulogy. “Through it all, he was everything one could hope for in a second-in-command: reliable, cool under fire, and resourceful.”

Mr. Cole “was an honest man and a very good one. That’s no small accomplishment,” added Fox, who is editor-at-large at the Valley News in New Hampshire.

In Worcester, Mr. Cole met Cooney, who also worked at the paper. They married in 1986.

He left the newsroom for marketing, advertising, and digital ventures at the Telegram & Gazette before joining the Globe in 2005. Mr. Cole drove to and from Worcester until he and his wife moved to Somerville in 2010, after their sons finished high school. With the Massachusetts Turnpike at last in his rearview mirror, he happily traded four wheels for two and became a bike commuter.

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Colleagues “marveled at his name – Thomas F.X. Cole,” said Jason Kissell, the Globe’s former vice president of advertising sales. “Who else but Tom could pull off the double middle initial? Only Francis Ford Coppola’s doppelganger.” (Place photos of the two side by side and you could imagine Mr. Cole slipping into the director’s chair on the “Godfather” movies with no one the wiser.)

At the Globe, Mr. Cole “represented the changing dynamic of the newspapers,” Kissell said in an interview. “He could take a lot of the old newspaper model and transition into new ventures to sustain the company.”

Mr. Cole, he added, played a role in initiatives such as deciding to charge for some content on bostonglobe.com, launching Design New England magazine, and working with the moviemakers who produced the Academy Award-winning film “Spotlight,” which is based on work by Globe reporters.

A few albums on Mr. Cole’s Flickr website are devoted to his photos of “Spotlight” movie shoots at the Globe. In some pictures, his careful eye captured the film set’s simultaneous excitement and tedium.

That Mr. Cole was at ease among movie stars was not surprising. In newspapers, he moved from the news side to the business side without losing a step, or friends, along the way.

“Advertising people and the newsroom aren’t supposed to mix at newspapers. Church and state,” Kissell said in his eulogy, adding: “Tom could effortlessly go from one meeting in the newsroom packed with veteran journalists to a digital product meeting with an average age of 25. It was amazing to watch.”

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In addition to his wife, son, brother, and sister, Mr. Cole leaves another son, Dan of Brooklyn, N.Y.; another brother, Frank III of Leicester; and another sister, Judith Jones of Nashua.

On Mr. Cole’s 58th birthday, a dozen days before he died, he and his wife traveled to New York City to attend a wake for the father of his son Ben’s girlfriend, who had died at 63. “So hyperaware that time is short,” Mr. Cole wrote to a friend earlier in the day.

En route, Mr. Cole and his wife drove through a snowstorm – a far cry from last fall’s trip to California’s warmth. Mr. Cole was undaunted.

“Tom always went to wakes or funerals or shiva,” she recalled. “He was not one to sit on the sidelines. He showed up.”


Bryan Marquard can be reached at bryan.marquard@globe.com.