A Tribute to "T-Bone" Tom Fitzmorris (The Story)

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"T-Bone" Tom Fitzmorris News Version

Story and photos copyright Al Ruscelli

T-Bone Tom 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

Fitzmorris 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 health crisis. 

T-Bone Tom Appreciation Day took place on Sunday, May 18 -- sadly, the very day that Fitzmorris passed away

Fitzmorris 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. 

Facilities were set up at the park to accommodate several events scheduled over the course of the day. 

In the park's main building, a bake sale was held. 

Bands played 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. 

Literally 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. 

Nearly $30,000 was raised as a result of the auctions, dinner sales, and donations from friends and visitors. 

After the parade got things started at around 11:30 a.m., there were several presentations made in honor of Fitzmorris. 

Lee 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. 

Although state representative Jerry Patterson could not attend, he sent a flag to be presented to Fitzmorris. 

Linda 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. 

"He's been our father, brother, mentor, and friend," said Hansen.  "We love him very much.

The ceremonial posting of colors was performed by members of the South Shore Christian Academy, and the National Anthem was sung by John Hickman. 

Although 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. 

Several 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 services. 

The entire 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. 

It is estimated that over 2000 people visited the park during the afternoon. 

Fitzmorris 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 visitors. 

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. 

Auctioneer 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. 

 In what 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. 

It should 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. 

Had this 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. 

People with 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 the opportunity.  

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, and friendship. 

Fitzmorris, who was age 54, is survived by his wife Carol, son David, and daughter Glena. 

Donations may be made to the Friends of T-Bone Tom by calling Texas First Bank in Kemah at (281) 538-4483. 


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