Thomas Francis Hargrove
Born 18 July 1934 Died 22 June 2020
Outward Bound has a motto, “To Serve, To Strive and not To Yield.” That describes my father. He served his community in many ways. By being the first child in his family to attend college he shined the light on the possibilities a higher education can offer to his siblings, his children and my cousins. He did once warn me that I was too smart for my own good. I responded “if you didn’t want us to think for ourselves, why did you encourage us to attend college?” But that’s what he did from the day I was born, he instilled in me the unquenching thirst for knowledge. Curiosity about the world around me, both ancient history and current events, is what has driven me to this day. My love of storytelling, or as the Irish say, the gift of the gab, comes from my mother’s family who were involved in the arts but also my father who introduced me to the world of books. I blame my 10,000 volume library on him.
Many in this room may not know this but my father had a few wishes in his life he never had a chance to fulfill. First, he wanted to run for political office. Not as high as the Presidency (I had that dream once until I worked for politicians on both sides of the aisles from Council Person to Mayor to President and decided I wanted to be the puppetmaster, not the puppet) but high enough to transition to an Ambassadorship. He also wanted to write historical non-fiction. His ten years of honorable service in the National Guard exposed him to the selfless tradition of the citizen soldier and the history of America’s men and women who step up, unheralded, to protect our nation from enemies both foreign and domestic. That history was what he wanted to write about. Over 2 million American men & women served in Vietnam, my father whose Guard unit was called up did not. He resigned his commission shortly before the call up as he had a bigger challenge in life on the domestic front, his growing family and the well-being of his fellow New Yorkers.
As a social worker my father was always ready, always there. He helped battle the TB outbreak that hit New York in the 1960s. In the 1970s the rise of hard drugs in the inner city, particularly heroin, was another challenge. The 1977 nursing homes scandal led to his involvement in the creation of the CASA program in HRA that was designed to help and protect seniors in need. When crack hit New York like a time bomb in the 1980s he was there. His brother and nephews fought that war on another front. When AIDS devastated communities white, black & brown he was there again. When he was winding down his nearly 50 years of selfless service to his fellow Americans the scourge of TB once again reared its head in New York. What did my father do, especially after discovering the TB section of the HRA manual was “removed” in an update? He went into the basement of our house and dug through boxes of work related material he always knew would come in handy one day to find the “How To Fight TB Manual” he helped draft with the New York Dept of Health nearly half a century earlier.
My father was a people person. He may have earned a degree from his beloved St John’s University in Business Administration, but his calling was giving a helping hand to someone in need regardless of their race or socioeconomic status. He met many important people in his life that have changed this country for the better. Some people think all the celebrities I have met in my entertainment industry career is the ultimate coolness factor. It’s not. My father when he was recovering from his near death in ICU a few years ago told me about the people he had the honor to meet once in passing or over extended periods of time. Be it Bobby Kennedy or Pat Moynihan, Malcolm X, Shirley Chisholm or that mad hatter Bella Abzug, he understood the importance of being a kind and just person who cared for everyone in this great nation one individual at a time.
One friend of my father was an elderly black nurse he introduced me to once when he took me to his job at Goldwater Hospital when I was about 9 or 10. He introduced her as “Alberta” and off-handily stated that she was a big singer during his youth in the 1930s & ’40s. You’re 9, everything goes in one ear and out the other. As an adult, my father was visiting and asked me if that was Jack Teagarden playing on my turntable. I had no idea he was a huge fan as a teenager. ( I can’t blame my massive record collection on him…) We went out to eat and were discussing jazz and big band music over dinner. I asked him “Did you introduce me to Alberta Hunter when I was a kid?” He said “Of course, I was a friend of Alberta’s for years.”
I disappointed my father many times in my life. His first child to graduate from college he had hoped I would take pathways that would parallel his unmet dreams. Politically I turned down a patronage job from the Ed Koch administration. “Good decision” he said when that scandal erupted. What would you expect from someone who upon graduating from junior high school in 1976 when asked what movie I wanted to see after graduation lunch said “All The President’s Men.” When I finished the prestigious Public Service Scholar Program I was selected for at Hunter College, David Dinkins, who knew my father, asked if I was joining city government. I sarcastically replied “The public sector gives you ulcers. The private sector gives you ulcers. The private sector pays more.”
When the alphabet agencies attempted to recruit me for FBI Counterintelligence and the CIA my mother said if I accepted the position she’d disown me. My father replied “They’ll fire you for using the surveillance equipment to make a movie.” Me, I would have used the surveillance footage to make a movie. My biggest regret, and something that was very important to him, was I never met a woman who would put up with me. My father wanted a male heir to carry on the family name. If my hour glass wasn’t fast running out of sand, who knows what would happen as I transition into a graybeard.
Family was important to my father. He was there for his children in their times of need. Gave advice when needed, though maybe not heeded. He passed on his 85, almost 86 years of wisdom to everyone be it children, grandchildren and even great grandchildren. Nieces and nephews and their kids too. His kindness to all who came across his path is what I will always remember. My father passed on to me what Lord Tennyson wrote in Ulysses, in life one must search for adventure, experience and meaning which in time makes life worth living.
Dad, I love you.