Thomas Howard Tippetts passed away on Tuesday, August 18, 2020, surrounded by his family, after a long fight with Parkinson’s, compounded ultimately by cancer. Tom was born on March 13, 1952 to Geraldine Greenall and LaVere Tippetts. Geri taught him the way of things; LaVere taught him that to live long in the way of things was to find another way, and, from his five siblings, he learned there are at least as many wrong ways as right ones—a lesson later confirmed by his five children. Above all, though, Geri and LaVere’s home in Mapleton, Utah was a school of devotion, improvisation, humility, and forgiveness, of finding abundance in scarcity and recognizing the grace in both, of the power of cheeriness, storytelling, humor, and song, and of the redemption that comes through embracing the misfit and brokenness in each other. This instruction often went unheeded by teacher and pupil alike but was still studied enough by Tom to become a feature of his own curriculum in the years ahead.
Tom continued this education as a young man in the mission field in South Texas where he cultivated a deeper understanding of his own limitations and possibilities, and an abiding love for extremely cold bodies of water. Upon his return, while working in BYU’s youth survival program, Tom met Pamela Budge and together they glimpsed the possibility of the sweetness of a life devoted to each other. Of all the beings in God’s creation he had encountered, she was the most enigmatic, yet at the same time he felt at home, safe in the world, in her presence. He wanted to see, understand and feel what she did, to always be by her side. Moreover, she was not afraid of bats, one of his few primordial fears. He made her laugh and enveloped her in tenderness, drawing a playfulness to the surface in her that made it easier to access when times were tough. She also sensed that he was well schooled in the practices of devotion. They were married in the Manti Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on April 22, 1975. Over time, through continual re-dedication, re-invention, sacrifice and patience, each took their turns at putting the other first and the perhaps naive promise of those early years matured into a grown-up love story—one they would each choose again although, preferably, skipping the adolescence of their children (especially Tom Jr.’s).
In addition to raising a family with Pam and continuing to mentor and care for his children through their adulthood and his grandchildren, Tom became a master carpenter and a general contractor. His occupational passions were working with wood and innovative construction techniques, some more theoretical than practical. Aside from ensuring that his family’s needs were met, that there were always presents at Christmas and on birthdays, and that Pam could ultimately enjoy a house she loved (even when those things required working for months far from home when the local building market was in a slump and sometimes sleeping in warehouses, on jobsites or in his truck to save the expense of a hotel), Tom’s career aspirations came second to most other aspects of his life.
Tom gave of himself tirelessly, thoughtfully and cheerfully to each calling in the church he adored. He relished the egalitarianism he found and fostered in that community, while always seeking to extend that fellowship to others. Tom always had time to lift up the hands that hang down—those of the widows and widowers, the sick and the disabled, the unemployed, the young adults without family nearby, the prodigal whomever—no one was outside his circle of care. Tom also had time to sing, in various choirs or anywhere, to perfect his storytelling craft to the delight of young and old, to pun and play practical jokes on self-absorbed teenagers, to prepare exquisite hand-cut fries, to coax the estranged back to the fold, to dazzle with his theatrics, both on stage and off, to build lean-tos under the stars and make us believe that vacationing in hotels was for chumps or that inferior equipment or no equipment was the start of something great…to beclown himself with some Falstaffian gesture to lighten the mood. In short, Tom was a man, perhaps not for all seasons, but for at least the most intemperate ones.
By his own account, Tom cherished two things more than anything else: first, his relationship with Pam and, second, what he called the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For most people perhaps, the first is what you would expect and rightly so. That relationship has done more for Tom in this life than any other. Even Geri would agree. Tom and Pam continually chose each other and, besides, no one else was going to care for him the way she did in his last decade and a half of his life with Parkinson’s. And, in any event, those who know Pam understand that Tom’s powers of discernment (beguilement?) were at their height at the advent of that relationship.
The second is more difficult to decipher, if only for being less concrete or, depending on one’s perspective, not at all concrete. Based on a lifetime of listening to Tom and, more importantly, observing him, he must have meant the Gospel of Jesus Christ as an ethic, a way of living a life. In this sense, to cherish the Gospel of Jesus Christ is to live in a way that is ennobling to the weakest among us, to live in a way that sees the face of God (or one’s own face, if you prefer) reflected in those that are suffering or are at their worst, to live in a way that loves more when love is otherwise absent. It was when Tom was closest to this way of life that he seemed to be at his best. And why not? That ethic gave him a world that was wondrous even in its crookedness. To be loved by him, when you did not feel deserving of love, was a gift. To love life and others in abundance and scarcity in such a way, as he did imperfectly, which was all he could do and all we can do, is what he would want. That and that none of us take ourselves too seriously.
Like the old poet, Tom lived his life in widening circles. More found themselves within those arcs at the end than in the beginning. He will be sorely missed.
Tom is preceded in death by Geri and LaVere, his father-in-law—Harold, and his two eldest siblings—Gary and CoraLee. Tom is survived by Pam, his mother-in-law—Viona, five siblings—Linda (Rob), DeeAnn (Ross), Dave (Jennifer), Alison and Harry (Laura), his five children—Joe, Tom (Sarah), Heidi, Eva (Deven) and Holly (Devon) and his ten grandchildren.
Memorial services will be held on Saturday, August 22, 2020 at 11AM in Mapleton, Utah. Due to Covid-19, with deep regret, in-person attendance at the funeral service will be limited to family. A visual and audio recording of the service will be made available a few days thereafter, which can be accessed by going to https://www.wheelermortuaries.com. On this website, click on Tom’s obituary and at the bottom of the obituary there will be a link to the recording.
In lieu of flowers, please consider contributing to Latter-day Saint Charities or another humanitarian effort.
To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Thomas Howard Tippetts, please visit our floral store.