By Eric DuVall
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News —
The world lost a man last week whose life and impact it would be impossible to sum up, even with every free inch in this newspaper.
I guess the simplest way to put it is: I lost a friend.
But Tom Joyce was much more than just a friend. He was a mentor, a partner in crime, a king of barroom banter, reader, lover and critic of books famous and not. He was not a journalist in the literal sense of the word but if our job is to write history's first draft he was one of the finest scribes I'll ever know.
I came to know Tom as a freshman at Canisius College in 2000. He and his best friend, the late Mel Schroeder, were English professors and moderators of the college paper, The Griffin.
I came to The Griffin sort of through the back door. I thought I wanted to get into public relations and a work-study job in the school's PR office brought me in contact with some of the editors.
The first time a story broke that made the school look a little silly my bosses in the PR department instructed me not to tell any of my Griffin contacts about it. Ten minutes later I snuck out for a cigarette and called in the tip. From that moment on I knew I wanted to report the news, not hide it.
At the ripe age of 18 that was about all I knew.
Together, Mel and Tom offered clarity in those blurry, heady days of post-adolescent discovery and expansion.
Were it not for Tom and Mel I would have failed at journalism and I'd probably be churning out the second-rate pressers that ceaselessly flood my inbox exclaiming, "New Dunkin' Donuts opens in Hoboken, N.J.!"
That, or working in it.
Tom and Mel taught me more than I can possibly recount about good writing and good sense. The thing they gave me most — the most precious thing to impart — is the spirit that drives any reporter worth his salt, a relentless passion for the truth.
It was with great sadness I had occasion to mark Mel's passing two years ago in this space. I still can't comprehend the idea that both these great men are gone. How can it be that their combined wisdom and knowledge, so expansive if it could be transcribed it would fill libraries, is gone from this life?
I can only shake my head.
Just the same, in a fitting homage to Tom Joyce, intellectualism is but one topic to cover. He was one of the funniest bastards I ever knew. His effervescence took over a room as he hop-scotched from one topic to the next, tossing quips, slinging darts in any direction his manic mind thought warranted. He was blue, unafraid to make any joke no matter how cross. And he got away with it because more often than not it was so funny even the stickiest stick in the mud was doubled over laughing.
He got away with it, too, because despite the utter lack of sacred cows, Tom loved everyone and everything with fierce sincerity. To be pilloried by Tom was at times the highest of compliments. It meant you were important, loved. (Though he offered many a withering critique where he saw pomposity and arrogance — two traits rarely in short supply in academia).
Tom had a knack for summing things up succinctly, with humor and heart. Permit an anecdote:
We shared many passions, Tom and I. Perhaps the greatest is Buffalo Sabres hockey. (He named his daughter Gilbert, after the great Perreault.)
A group of former Griffinites had the idea of buying and sharing a pair of season tickets a couple years after graduation. Tom was characteristically enthusiastic and jumped at the notion.
It so happened that our purchase coincided with the team's President's Trophy season and second consecutive appearance in the conference finals in 2007. We went to a playoff game together against the rival Ottawa Senators, Game 2 of the semifinals. Already down in the series 1-0 and trailing 3-2 late in the third period, we sat nervous as all hell in our nosebleed seats.
The packed arena was silent as the minutes ticked away. With six seconds left, still trailing by a goal, a puck wheeled in desperation from the near wall found its way to Sabres captain Danny Briere, standing alone at the far post. He tapped it in and the roof blew off the place. I've never jumped so high in my life. When my feet finally found the ground I grabbed Tom in a bear hug. We screamed and flailed with a euphoria reserved precisely for hockey nuts in ecstasy.
It is, to this day, my single favorite Sabres memory. I couldn't be happier Tom was by my side.
Alas, the jubilation was short-lived. The Sabres lost the game in double overtime.
As 19,000 wiped out fans trudged out of the arena, Tom looked around and said something so simple, so exactly right, I'll remember it for a lifetime of losses.
"There is no joy in Buffalo tonight."
That phrase encapsulates Tom Joyce as best I can describe. He was right. There was no joy. But only that night. There would be other nights — better nights — to come.
Tom's great gift was to deal with the world as it existed before him, good or bad — but always with the knowledge if it was bad it would or could get better. It was a secret he imparted to everyone he met and it's what enabled him to recognize and celebrate each person's uniqueness and worth. Though hardly a wealthy man, that quality made him one of the richest people I've had the good fortune to know.
As I and many more people mourn his death and contemplate his life and ours without him, I keep thinking of those words — but with an added bit of punctuation, his gift to me in more ways than one.
There is no joy in Buffalo. Tonight.Eric DuVall is the managing editor of the Tonawanda News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.