Below is the text from a talk that Tom’s college roommate, Dan Curran, gave about him at their 5-year college reunion:
I was roommates with Tom Cavanagh for 4 years in college. Like many of you can remember, I first received word of my freshman roommate in a letter from the dean’s office shortly before school started. I was informed that I’d be living with Tom Cavanagh, of Warwick, Rhode Island, in Matthews room 306. I called Tom after getting that letter, and I was informed by a member of his family that he was at the beach that day, and that I could reach him there. I eventually got in touch with Tom at the beach, and I wanted to walk through some logistics: I’d be bringing a microwave, a TV, and a VCR. Tom wanted to pull his weight too, and he let me know that he had a mini-fridge he could bring. I was excited to hear that, but Tom let me know there was one catch – it was broken. It didn’t work. There was an awkward silence for a few seconds, and then Tom suggested that he’d try and fix it. I hadn’t met Tom yet, and so you can imagine the first image I had of him in my head: sitting on beach somewhere, maybe a surfboard on one side of him, and on the other side laying there in the sand - broken refrigerator and a tool box.
When I met Tom a few weeks later, I was stunned to find out that he was not, in fact, a surfer-mechanic. However I did learn that Tom was a hockey player, and that he was going to be playing hockey for Harvard. I asked him what I thought to be a legitimate question – “are you going to be playing varsity, or do you think you’ll start out on the JV squad?” He looked at me with this slight grin, and he told me, “no, I’ll probably play varsity.” I didn’t understand what was behind that grin until about two months later. It was just before the hockey season was set to begin, and I was reading a story in the Crimson about the team. When I got to the part about Tom, I learned that he had been drafted in the NHL the prior year by the San Jose Sharks. So, yeah, he’d be playing varsity. I had been living with the guy for over two months, and I’d had no idea that he’d been drafted in the NHL. And it’s not because Tom was hiding it from me, or that he was somehow embarrassed by it. It just simply hadn’t come up in conversation. Tom wasn’t the kind of guy who liked to talk about himself, and it certainly wasn’t in his character to talk about his tremendous accomplishments. He was much too humble for that. No, Tom saved his energy for when he was on the ice.
In 4 years with the Crimson, Tom helped lead the team to 2 ECAC championships, 4 NCAA tournament appearances, he scored 117 points, and his senior year he was named an assistant captain. If you watched Tom play the game, you might be forgiven if you started to wonder whether he had eyes in the back of his head. He was that good. After school, Tom went on to play professional hockey for several years, most of that with the American Hockey League affiliate of the San Jose Sharks, first in Cleveland and then following the team to Worcester. Tom set the franchise record for the most points scored by a Worcester Sharks player. In 2008, Tom got the chance to play at hockey’s highest levels, getting called up to the NHL to play with the San Jose Sharks. In his first shift on the ice, it only took Tom 36 seconds to record his first NHL point, assisting Joe Thornton.
Now, Tom would never have told you any of this. Again, it simply wasn’t in his DNA to talk about this kind of stuff. If you had a conversation with Tom, he’d be much more interested in hearing about you, and about your life. If you did press Tom to talk about himself, he probably wouldn’t talk about hockey, but instead you’d probably hear about what mattered most in Tom’s life – his large, and loving family. Tom was one of 9 Cavanagh children - he was the middle child. His father Joe played hockey for Harvard in the early 70’s and was a 3-time All-American. His Uncle Dave played for the Crimson as well. Tom’s face would light up when he got to talking about his family, and in particular, when discussing his younger siblings. This is what Tom really enjoyed spending his energy talking about.
Tom and I were good friends in college, and we stayed in touch after school. Unfortunately, as many of you can probably relate, Tom and I struggled to stay in touch as well as I now wish we had. In 2010 I got a phone call from Tom, asking if we could meet up for dinner. We met up just down the street from here, and after the requisite small talk and busting each other’s chops, Tom shared with me that he had been going through some pretty difficult mental health issues recently. He had spent some time in a hospital, and he had taken some time off of hockey. He didn’t go into much more detail, and I could tell that even sharing this was incredibly difficult for him. What Tom didn’t tell me that night, and what I would later learn, was that he had recently been diagnosed with schizophrenia. In fact, Tom had been battling with this incredibly difficult disease for several years by that point unbeknownst to most of us.
Several months later, on New Year’s Eve, I received a text message from Tom. He wished me a happy New Year’s, and suggested that we get together soon. I wrote him back and wished him a happy New Year’s as well, and let him know that I’d love to meet up – it had been too long. A few days later, on January 6, 2011, Tom Cavanagh succumbed to his battle with mental illness. He had been receiving treatment, and he had fought a long and brave battle with a disease so challenging it’s unimaginable. When I think of the pain that my friend went through, it breaks my heart in a way that I didn’t know was possible. Like many I struggle to understand the hand that Tom was dealt. I know Tom struggled to understand this too. But in his darkest of times, Tom found comfort in the things that mattered most in life to him – his family, and his faith in god.
Tom’s family honors his memory through the Thomas G. Cavanagh Memorial Fund. The fund’s mission is to aid those suffering from mental illness, in particular schizophrenia. The fund supports educational programs, research, and treatment for patients at Butler Hospital in Rhode Island, where Tom was a patient. The family hopes to raise awareness and promote dialogue about the challenges and prevalence of mental illness in our society.
As sad as I am over Tom’s passing, when I think about Tom, I’m reminded of the good times. He had this smile, that I think could best be described as mischievous. He could be quiet when you first met him, even shy, but once you got to know him, any semblance of Tom Cavanagh being a quiet guy was gone forever – whether you liked it or not. One of the best parts of knowing Tom was getting to share in his amazing, and quite frankly unique, sense of humor. He had this wit – it could be absolutely blindsiding if you weren’t prepared for it, and all too often I wasn’t. Deep down inside he was just a goofy kid. He was the only person I knew that named both his forehand and backhand shot. And not in hockey, mind you, no this was in ping pong. For the record his forehand’s name was Harold, and his backhand went by the name of Dirty Diana.
He had strong opinions, and he loved a good argument, on anything from politics, to Bruce Springsteen songs, to the merits of the state of Rhode Island, to the Red Sox bullpen. I often suspected that Tom would bait me into these friendly arguments by asking me my opinion on something, waiting to hear my response, and then instinctively taking the opposing viewpoint. And this wasn’t Tom trying to play devil’s advocate. I think he genuinely enjoyed disagreeing with me on as many things as possible.
Tom was simply fun to be around. He could whip you up a white Russian, put on a killer Winamp playlist (at least it was killer in his mind), and he could make just hanging out in a dorm room feel like it had all the excitement of a night out on the town partying.
But most of all, Tom was the epitome of a good friend. The kind of friend you knew you could count on. The kind of friend who made you feel comfortable in your own skin.
They say that when someone you love dies, a piece of you dies with them. I understand the meaning behind that statement now, but I choose not to believe it. The part of me that only Tommy Cavanagh knows is still there, and he’s waiting to see his old pal again someday. And he’s forever grateful for the genuine gift of friendship that Tom gave him.
So Tommy, keep that Sega Genesis warm for me pal. You owe me a rematch in NBA Jam, and one of these days, I might finally beat you.