Thomas Denman Meeker was born in Portland, Oregon on December 9, 1959 to David Denman Meeker and Lorabelle Winetta (Bertelsen) Meeker, the youngest of four siblings.
When he was young, the family moved to New Jersey for two years. When the family returned to Portland, he cried because with Oregon winter rain instead of snow and bright New Jersey sun, he could not play outdoors. All his life he loved being out-of-doors.
Growing up was not without mishaps. When "Tommy" was about four, he banged his teeth on the kitchen table and his "two front teeth" wish went unfilled for several Christmases until his gums softened as the adjacent teeth fell out at the normal time. In gym class, he broke both forearms coming off the parallel bars. In Scouts, he split his shin open with an ax.
Tom had many other Scouting adventures. At one camporee, his patrol failed to return from a multi-mile-long compass course. A search was initiated and the other boys were confined to camp. But Tom's patrol was carrying their packs, well-prepared for an unexpected night out. When they found their own way back the next day, hundreds of jealous boys were convinced they'd missed out on the fun.
At Beaverton High School, Tom was involved in art and theater and served as an Outdoor School counselor named "Salaal" for several sessions. Near the end of his senior year he left home to live with some older friends from Scouts. A well-meaning vice principal told him (incorrectly) that he had to live at home to continue in school, and so he dropped out a few weeks before graduation.
As a young adult the shadows of mental illness darkened his life, making it difficult and uncomfortable for him to maintain stability. The outdoor skills he learned as a boy became a way of life, punctuated early on by a few months now and then in a hospital or with various friends or family members; later by a few years in an apartment of his own; and off and on by a few days in a motel, where the desk clerks knew him by name.
Tom loved reading, especially CS Lewis and JRR Tolkein. Over the years he filled countless notebooks with his art and poetry. When speaking, his words (per se) were earnest, though (in a sense) sometimes confusing, with the erudite air (as it were) of a college professor - despite not having completed high school. Those who had known him longest watched his earlier feistiness mellow; in his last years he was known as a gentle soul loved by many.
After a hard life, he passed away Thanksgiving night, November 26, 2020. In his wallet he carried a well-worn card that proclaimed "I trust in Jesus".
Tom is most remembered for his big, friendly smile.
The family extends heartfelt thanks to the many who helped Tom over the years:
to George at East PDX Law, who helped him qualify for benefits and replace his photo ID whenever he lost it;
to Brenda at AblePay and the others who served as his "payee" over the years; and
to the officers of Portland's Central Precinct who treat their work not as a job but as a calling, some even going the extra mile by learning Tom's name and the names of other men and women living in the area.
Special thanks to the St. Francis Dining Hall community:
to John, who gave Tom his mail and safeguarded some of his journals;
to Valerie, retired director, who provided Tom with emotional support;
to Kathy, the bookkeeper, who kept Tom's money in the office safe;
to Tim, the head of security, who watched out for Tom;
to Judy, a dining hall stalwart with whom Tom shared his writings; and
to the many other helping hands who have food with dignity and in community, and - until recently - other essentials for warmth and hygiene and even a way to launder clothes or charge phones.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests supporting one of the organizations filling the gap left when COVID and other unforeseen changes scaled back much of the multifaceted work of the St. Francis Dining Hall:
JOIN (https://joinpdx.org/, PO Box 16490, Portland 97292) supporting people in their journey to permanent housing. (Mike at JOIN had been working with Tom for a number of years.)
Dignity & Peace (www.paypal.com/paypalme/dignitypeacepdx, 1506 NE 84th Ave, Vancouver 98664), led by former Dining Hall volunteers to continue providing non-food daily needs with dignity and in community.
Or another similar organization.
Tom is survived by his three siblings Bobbie Edwards, Harriett (and John) Sparrows, and Charles (and Raelene) Meeker, and by many nieces, nephews, and grand-nieces and grand-nephews.
Homeless no more.
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