I first met Tom Dutart when we bought our home on Pine Street in 1993.
We were passing by his home a block down during an early April evening walk when he called out to us. He was tinkering in his garage with his home beer brewing equipment.
Tom knew Cynthia. He knew who I was but I had no inkling who he was.
Tom extended his hand and as we were shaking he told me “now that you’ve moved in there goes the neighborhood” just before his mischievous smile brightened the garage.
It was my first encounter with him but he treated me like a longtime friend.
Dutart left this world Tuesday at the age of 82 at the hands of an assailant that stabbed him to death near his home in Santa Maria.
Police have no inking why anyone would have harmed Tom whose sharp wit could sting at times but it never cut and his intent was never to do harm. He reminded me of some elementary teachers I had which made sense given Tom taught fourth grade for years at Sequoia School.
Tom had a lot of passions: His wife Linda, his beer making, his banjo and tuba, his family, his students, as well as people and life in general.
One summer weekend there was an event going on at the church just across from his house that involved groups playing music outside. Tom grabbed his banjo, walked across the street, asked permission to join in and went to town just like he knew the people all his life even though up until then they were complete strangers. That was Tom.
The quintessential Tom Dutart story fell into my lap during the Manteca Presbyterian Church’s annual Breakfast with Santa.
A few days earlier I was in an exasperating argument with Cynthia about why I wasn’t wrong in draping Christmas lights on our tree as opposed to her insistence I did it wrong because I did in not wrap them. Given this followed a dispute over how you place toilet paper on a built-in wall holder — I said over she said under — I came up with a working theory for a column that toilet paper and Christmas tree lights were a women are from Venus and men from Mars thing.
I was asking several men and women whether they draped or wrapped lights and their rationale. The guys for the most part draped them and the women wrapped them.
Tom, overhearing this, volunteered that he had settled that issue many Christmases ago with Linda.
It seems one year Linda questioned why he draped instead of wrapped lights on their artificial tree.
Tom said he took the tree out into the garage, took the lights off, grabbed a few of his home brews, and picked up his staple gun.
He then proceeded to wrap and staple the tree lights in place. When he was done, he placed the tree in a bag and hanged it upside down from the rafters in his garage.
It sounds a tad nutso but it eliminated the issue and saved him some work.
It also was a great conversation piece he could share with neighbors peeking into his open garage as they passed by on a sultry July evening.
Tom loved life and he loved people — young and old.
When someone dies, especially senselessly and tragically, we tend to say in all sincerity that the world is a little bit less bright without them.
Given the lasting impact Tom had on his former students and the fact that many can recall a lot of his wit and his zest for life, I think it should be framed as how people like Tom are simply writing a stanza in the song we call life that inspires others to compose new verses based on how they got us to join in the dance.
Of course, with Tom it would have to be set to his banjo or tuba.
Tom’s life was well played.
Just ask those whose hearts he touched.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email firstname.lastname@example.org