A Tribute to "T-Bone" Tom
Fitzmorris (The Story)
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"T-Bone" Tom Fitzmorris
photos copyright Al Ruscelli
Fitzmorris passed away on May 18, 1997, from complications related to his
recently diagnosed cancer. Fitzmorris, the owner of T-Bone Toms
Restaurant in Kemah, was a well-known and beloved individual whose
contributions to his community will not soon be forgotten.
Quite a few
people in the local community knew that Fitzmorris had been diagnosed with
cancer, but the news was kept relatively quiet. When someone has as many
friends as Fitzmorris, however, word is bound to get out sooner or later.
was a man whose steadfast commitment to the good of the local community
has been in evidence for years. By way of tribute to him for all that he
has done locally, family, friends, coworkers, and associates pooled their
resources and put together a T-Bone Tom Appreciation Day celebration at
Kemah Park. Part of the purpose of the event was to help raise money to
cover medical expenses incurred due to Fitzmorris illness. To complicate
matters for the Fitzmorris family, health considerations in recent years
had left him without adequate insurance coverage to deal with this current
Appreciation Day took place on Sunday, May 18 -- sadly, the very day that
Fitzmorris passed away.
arrived at the celebration in Kemah Park right on time, at the head of the
parade in his honor, being driven in a beautiful red limousine provided by
Delva Siemsen of Re/Max. Joining the parade were a host of vehicles from
several local area car clubs including the Bay Shore Fine Rides, the Space
City Cruisers, and the Thunderbirds of Houston. Also prominently featured
in the parade were vehicles and members of several city service
departments, including the police and fire departments.
were set up at the park to accommodate several events scheduled over the
course of the day.
park's main building, a bake sale was held.
throughout the day under the shade of the gazebo. Among the highlights
were Bobby Dennis singing Waltz Across Texas (sometimes affectionately
called the Kemah National Anthem). Ms. Dennis was accompanied by the
Mudsharks, who played for a couple of hours that afternoon. The Mudsharks
at one point also accompanied Fitzmorris own niece, Tammye L. Fitzmorris,
herself a country western entertainer. The Loose Rig Band and Wild About
Texas rounded out the list of musical entertainers. Bruce and Francis
Soderstrom of Sound Repair in Kemah provided all of the stage equipment
for the bands that day.
1000 pounds of meat was cooked and served throughout the day under the
main pavilion. People paid $5 per plate for barbecue dinners, and there
was a continual line running past the serving table from noon until 4:30
p.m., when the sliced beef finally ran out. Over 1000 tickets for
barbecue plates were sold, with the food line at times stretching hundreds
of feet down the block and around the corner of 6th Street.
A couple of
hundred chairs were set up in the shade of the parks trees in preparation
for the auction that took place during the afternoon between band
performances. There was a silent auction, with goods laid out on tables
by the main building, and a live auction conducted by Bobby Schlenk of
Attoyac Land and Auction Company. The auctions were planned to raise
money to help defray costs associated with Fitzmorris illness. Hundreds
of items and services were donated to these auctions, with values from a
few dollars to tens of thousands of dollars. Among the auction lots were
such things as automobiles (including Fitzmorris favorite red 1960
Thunderbird convertible), ZZ Top memorabilia (donated by ZZ Top band
members themselves), plants, dinners, dolls and other toys, automobile
services, and many other items too numerous to list.
$30,000 was raised as a result of the auctions, dinner sales, and
donations from friends and visitors.
parade got things started at around 11:30 a.m., there were several
presentations made in honor of Fitzmorris.
Peterson, master of ceremonies, led off with a speech during the welcoming
ceremony. Several locally prominent individuals also spoke, giving
tribute to Fitzmorris and his contributions to those whose lives he
touched. Fitzmorris wife Carol and son David were introduced to the
crowd, and a steady stream of speakers followed Mrs. Fitzmorris, including
Kemah Mayor Rick Diehl; Jim Hayes; Galveston County Judge Jim Yarborough;
League City Mayor Pro Tem Chuck Kelly (speaking on behalf of Mayor Tommy
Frankovich); Texas City Mayor Chuck Doyle; Seabrook Mayor Jan Bosone; and
Kemah Chief of Police Keith Warren.
state representative Jerry Patterson could not attend, he sent a flag to
be presented to Fitzmorris.
Hansen, Floor Manager at T-Bone Toms Restaurant, spoke on behalf of the
Fitzmorris 35 employees, most of whom have worked for him for years.
Hansen spoke of Fitzmorris as the kind of man who naturally inspired
loyalty in his friends and employees.
our father, brother, mentor, and friend," said Hansen.
"We love him very
ceremonial posting of colors was performed by members of the South Shore
Christian Academy, and the National Anthem was sung by John Hickman.
thanks went out to many individuals and groups for this event, special
thanks were reserved for the chairpersons responsible for major committee
efforts, including Becky Green and Bill Burkhart, donations; JoAnn
Blackledge, parade; Paul Montague, food; Jenny Jones, decorations; and
Joey Eisenring, entertainment. Eisenring, of Garden Delight Nursery, also
provided the big barbeque rig used to cook all the meat.
companies and individuals helped to provide food and related products and
services on T-Bone Tom Appreciation Day. Included on the list were Sam
Kanes Meat Co. (Harold Kane), Alliant Food Services (Dane Edwards), D & M
Poultry and Seafood, Premium Food Service (Jody Walter), Schoennemans
Produce, the Kemah Kronies, Hugh Simon Pie Company, Stewart and Stevenson,
Power Rentals, Glazier Food Services (Ronnie Culpepper), Sysco Food
Services (George Lewins), Schotts Bakery (Bruce Sutherland), Bayview
Friends Church, Admiral Linen, Johnny Potter and the City of Kemah Police
and Fire Departments. Kemah Copies provided support for all print
staff of T-Bone Toms was on hand to work on every aspect of the festival,
whether serving food and beverages, selling T-shirts, or doing dozens of
other little things to keep the event moving smoothly.
estimated that over 2000 people visited the park during the afternoon.
himself spent part of the day in the air conditioned main building, as the
combined heat and humidity a bit too much for comfort. However, he would
not be denied a long trip through the crowd to greet friends and
In the early
part of the afternoon, Fitzmorris was forced to leave the park facilities
due to his illness. News soon traveled to the crowd that he had been
taken to St. Johns Hospital in order to stabilize his condition. Sadly,
later in the afternoon, the word came that Fitzmorris condition had
continued to deteriorate and that he had passed away, unable to sustain
his battle with cancer and accompanying debilities.
Bobby Schlenk, in the middle of the afternoons last auction, was tasked
with giving the crowd the news. In the moment of silence that followed,
sobs could be heard as people fought to restrain their emotions, and many,
caught by this unexpected news, shed tears.
could best be described as the height of professionalism in a moment of
extreme stress, Schlenk took it upon himself to calm the crowd by
reminding them why they were there. He accentuated the need to complete
the auction, all the way though to the last item, despite the pain, so
that its purpose could be fulfilled. The friends and visitors in the
crowd agreed, and, despite the shock of the news about Fitzmorris, the
auction was completed.
also be mentioned that Schlenk took the time to remind the crowd that,
because of them, Fitzmorris had been given the opportunity to see
first-hand how highly everyone thought of him and how much they truly
loved him. Schlenks words were an obvious reflection of the thoughts
that many shared, but it was comforting to have the sentiment spoken out
loud as an affirmation of this collective belief.
event been scheduled for a week or a month or even a single day later than
it was, Fitzmorris may not have seen it with his own eyes.
Thus, a just
tribute was paid, in person, to a man who richly deserved it. Rather than
being a case of too little too late, this event was as timely a tribute as
could be presented.
friends like Fitzmorris know what its like to have someone on whom they
can count, and when it came time to reverse roles, his friends jumped on
Leave it to
Fitzmorris, however, to turn the tables on everyone. He said earlier that
he was not looking for charity in the first place, and he insisted that
this event be used as an opportunity to bring the community together. It
was just like him to turn it right around and insist that this festival be
a community celebration -- and, as such, a celebration of life, people,
who was age 54, is survived by his wife Carol, son David, and daughter
may be made to the Friends of T-Bone Tom by calling Texas First Bank in
Kemah at (281) 538-4483.
For more information, contact
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