Thomas A. McGavin

A love letter to my father, Thomas A. McGavin, 1919-2008, on the day of the McGavin Family Reunion in Seaforth, Ontario, August 30,2009.

My father was a famous tinkerer. He was also a beloved doctor, humanitarian, generous spirit with a quick wit. But it is his tinkering that set him apart. His elegant home is peppered with jury-rigged step-stools and lamps and hairbrushes and all sorts of oddly constructed testaments to a depression era youth spent managing to repair broken bits because they were too dear to replace. He and my mother often recount their journey from their family homes in Pennsylvania to their first home at my father’s first army assignment in Colorado. They needed to report to Colorado but only had 2 tires and no money to buy the other two. My mother’s father had two truck tires which were in passable condition. So my father put the truck tires on the passenger side of the car which worked fine because the roads at that time were higher in the middle. They rode this way to Colorado, then Wyoming, Missouri and then to Washington, D.C. where they settled in for the next 62 years.

My father once gave me a hairbrush that he decided was finally too old. The hair brush had thick ribbons of yellow cement running lengthwise across a near fatal break in the handle just below the bristles. In the cement were embedded 1”-2” metal rods bracing the cement. This repair had no attempt at cosmetic grace. It was functional and therefore good.

My father was 5’ 6” tall. He wore size 11 ½ AAA shoes. My neighbor once announced that I could eat spaghetti off the top of my father’s head. My father was never offended by short jokes. He laughed just as hard as those making the jokes. He had everything he could ever have wanted. He had come up from selling shoes to becoming a very well respected physician, with a beautiful wife, 2 homes, 7 children, too many grandchildren and great-grandchildren to count, all of whom adored him.

He was proud of his ability to make functional things out of not much. He was proud of the humble parts and proud of what they would become when glued or taped or wired together. He was proud of his humble early years, proud of his physical stature and proud of what he had managed to put together with such meager means and he allowed us to struggle putting together our own lives and taught us to value the effort and not to worry about appearances. He taught us to keep tinkering.

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