We lost one of the great ones two days ago. I’m not exaggerating even a little. We got word that Tom Armstrong passed away after a brief illness. People use that term a lot; “great ones” when they say a few nice words about someone, but if you ever knew Tom he lived the term every day. He had a successful business career, he and Susan were avid racers and were well-known in classic car circles. It seemed like everyone connected to cars in the Northwest knew him somehow.
I only met Tom a few years ago. It was about the time he was handing over the Kirkland Concourse to America’s Car Museum and we were still trying to decide what to do with our Stay-Cation event. Others kept telling me I need to meet Tom and when we finally met, almost the first words out of his mouth were, “How can I help?” Tom used those same four words numerous times when we met and it kind of underscored the giant impression he left on me.
As I’ve gotten older, I tend to spot those moments when I meet someone who’s truly special and someone who lives the ideals we all wish we could reach. Tom made it look effortless. John Atzbach and I were talking about what a remarkably nice, giving, person he was and how he had this way of connecting with people by looking them straight in the eye as he talked. John commented, and I seconded the thought, that Tom was the kind of guy we both wished we were more like. He was our idea of the perfect gentleman. I never heard him brag about anything or put himself first and he was always thinking of others. He always asked how things were going with us at E@RTC, and after hearing our ideas would always say, “How can I help?”
I and the others who make up E@RTC feel extremely lucky to have spent what little time we had with him. I think those who got to know him over the years were far more fortunate. What passed through my mind when John and I were talking that morning, was the regret that I didn’t know him better than I did. He was one of those people who made my mind race with questions about his life and how it all happened. I thought about it after and realized that my questions were the result of a wish to be more like him.
When we last spent a little time together, Tom talked like he had a keen awareness of his mortality. He still wanted to get as much done as he could and he wasn’t going to slow down. Tom bridged the gap for us between E@RTC and America’s Car Museum and set a great foundation for our future working together. He brokered that relationship that finally got us talking for the first time. It was through Tom that we met so many others. He opened a lot of doors. This is a big loss for the car community and we can’t thank Tom enough for all he’s done. Our thoughts are with Susan and all of his family.