Tom Gerughty RIP

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Dick Erb

climber
June Lake, CA
Sep 4, 2013 - 09:18am PT
Arriving home after work near Seattle one day, I pulled the mail out of the mailbox, and there was a 9x12 brown envelope over an inch thick from Tom Gerughty. I was alive with wonder as I carried the package into the house. I hadn't seen Tom for years. Pulling the contents out of the package I found mostly photo copies of various newspaper articles as well as messages from Tom. He wrote that he had been working at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard, and if I remember correctly one of his responsibilities was inspection. It seems he found many things that had been done wrong and covered up. He raised the alarm but didn't get the response he expected, and not long after he found his mind becoming overwhelmingly strange and thought he had been slipped some drugs, maybe LSD. (Tom had never gotten into the popular drugs of the day.) From there he went on to describe what followed which could be interpreted as frightening events or serious paranoia.

I found out that a number of my California climbing friends had received similar packages and most thought that these bizarre stories he told were the result of Tom losing his mind on his own, but there were others who agreed with Tom that foul play brought about the changes in his consciousness.
Roger Breedlove

climber
Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Sep 4, 2013 - 10:38am PT
This is sad news.

Tom was a great guy and always fun to visit with in the early 70s when he came up to Yosemite. As others have recalled, Tom also send me long missives when he was lost in his paranoid schizophrenia.

I tried to connect with Tom a few times later but never had any luck. I regretted that I did not go find him when he first reached out to me with his weird writing.

My condolences to his family and friends.






guido

Trad climber
Santa Cruz/New Zealand/South Pacific
Topic Author's Reply - Sep 4, 2013 - 11:01am PT
My recollection was there appeared to be a lot of validity in his accusations of deceit and corruption with the military industrial complex at Mare Island and as we all know you don't mess with the man when you are playing with his pocket book.

Was Tom on to something? Probably yes and no doubt the complexity and anxiety of investigating such intricate scams only contributed to his paranoia and problems. Would be nice to think of Tom as one of the original Whistleblowers but we will never know.

I remember his fascination with filming waterfalls in black and white and some of the stunning results of his work. We were all lucky to have spent time with him in our early years.
Eric Beck

Sport climber
Bishop, California
Sep 4, 2013 - 12:28pm PT
Wow, Dick, I never heard that story. When I first heard that Tom's sanity might be ebbing I thought that of all the people in my climbing circle, his would be the least likely. Your conjecture that this was deliberately induced to discredit him is totally with in the realm of possibility.

j. Gerughty

Social climber
Pacifica
Sep 4, 2013 - 12:38pm PT
I have always suspected something was done to him to cover something up. Interesting that at least one other has thought of the same possiblity.
Charlie D.

Trad climber
Western Slope, Tahoe Sierra
Sep 4, 2013 - 01:21pm PT
My sincerest condolences to friends and family of Tom Gerughty. While I can appreciate there are deliberate events that are within the "realm of possibilities" let's not forget how close mental illness is to touching us all. Statistically psychotic illness affects 3% of the population regardless of race, gender, social economic factors etc., it's one of those bad cards in this game we call life.

Having a loved one with such a disabling and chronic illness as schizophrenia is incredibly challenging. I can say from my own experience having a son with the illness their most valued memories come from the times they shared with family and friends pre-onset of the illness. Please find peace in knowing each of you no doubt added to the wealth Tom accumulated in his life. Those days in the Valley and TM climbing with his buddies and taking photos I'm certain provided him with a high degree of satisfaction despite the bad card he got dealt later, again if that is the case which is also within the realm of possibilities.

Charlie D.
Dick Erb

climber
June Lake, CA
Sep 4, 2013 - 01:53pm PT
Thanks for that post Charlie.
donini

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Sep 4, 2013 - 02:38pm PT
I have a daughter who suffers terribly from schizophrenia. What angers and upsets me most is the way psychotic disease is perceived in this country.
Very few resources are available and the stigma attached to psychosis causes denial among those afflicted further hindering their treatment.
The mind is just another organ but diseases of other organs are not stigmitized. I am aware that a lot of this is due to the behavior exhibited by those suffering from psychosis, but why are they treated as if the disease is their fault?
For me, a big measure of the quality of a society is the way they treat their mentally ill. In this, the USA fails miserably.
Patrick Oliver

Boulder climber
Fruita, Colorado
Sep 4, 2013 - 03:04pm PT
I remember a number of interesting conversations with Tom. He seemed
like a great soul, though I never got to know him very well. I
learned of him more through Higgins... He did phone me once and,
as I recall, wrote some letter I didn't understand.... It's a
sad loss. Sometimes it surprises us who are members of the
family and how or when we must and do realize it....
BooDawg

Social climber
Butterfly Town
Sep 5, 2013 - 02:42pm PT
I would love to see a bunch of photos that Tom took, perhaps posted here as well as a link to any website where they might be viewed. I'm sure for those of us who knew Tom, it would help revive our fond memories of him to see his photographic work.

If there is a memorial for Tom, it'd be great to have some of his work displayed there, if available. Whoever might be putting such a memorial together, I'm open to sending high resolution copies of my pix for such an event.
kschmitz@bresnan.net schmitz

Mountain climber
Jackson, Wyoming
Sep 5, 2013 - 02:55pm PT
A wonderful man. I will miss him.
DrDeeg

Mountain climber
Mammoth Lakes, CA
Sep 5, 2013 - 03:47pm PT
Tom & I climbed a lot together. With Beck's naming us all by first initial and middle name, he was T Charles and I was J Charles. He was really into cracks and chimneys. He was proud of the fact that his Kronhofers were worn evenly across the width of the sole, and he teased others because ours showed more wear on the insides from edging. In the summer of 1966, we estimated he had done a full mile of squeeze chimneys.

Like Erb, I got one of the letters about the yellow men in 1974 after I had moved to Santa Barbara, and I have felt badly over the years about not making more effort to keep in touch with him.
John Morton

climber
Sep 5, 2013 - 04:46pm PT
The heart skips a beat upon reading this news, and I am touched by the testimonials from these old pals. My memories of Tom run only up into 1967, but I received one of the packets in the mid-1970's. I don't remember the specific contents, only the impression that it all seemed outlandish, unfocused and certainly fearful.

When I remember this now I am sad to think of how little empathy I felt at the time. I had had zero exposure to mental illness, but experience since then has taught me a lot. The notion of foul play never occurred to me, but from what I know of the world now I will agree that such a thing is plausible, and the thought of it makes me angry.

The photos are beautiful, powerful and incredibly evocative of Tom. He was a vital presence in those days, truly a great guy. Thanks to all for your contributions.
John
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Sep 5, 2013 - 05:50pm PT
One of my friends from high school was schizophrenic (fortunately not so paranoid). He was friendly and lucid. And he explained it clearly, that he "heard voices". The medication was fairly effective for that, but he wasn't functional enough to be able to work, live by himself, etc.

Depression (major depressive disorder) is possibly harder for people to understand. A simple description is that people wake up sad every day, for no reason.
The problem with understanding it is that sometimes we ourselves wake up sad, but for some reason. And we are able to "cheer ourselves up". But people with MDD can't do this so easily. Sometimes drugs and therapy help.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Major_depressive_disorder
Jan

Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Sep 5, 2013 - 11:04pm PT
I first met Tom in the summer of 1965 when his picnic table was just below mine in Camp 4. We always thought of ourselves as the more conservative members of the camp compared to some of the other characters around, and had many interesting conversations. We celebrated the 100th anniversary of the first ascent of the Matterhorn with Sheridan Anderson and other assorted Camp 4 residents until our hip hip hoorays for Edward Whymper brought out the rangers and sent us all down to the beach. Among other topics we also spent a lot of time trying to figure out who the mysterious Chuck Ostin who came and went that summer, really was. And Tom always enjoyed my tuna casseroles, about the only protein the two of us ate that summer.

I saw him again every summer after that through 1969, including shortly after the terrible accident on El Cap. I remember him unwrapping the bandages around his hands and explaining that he was facing surgery to remove the scar tissue which had created webbing between his fingers. He was also at a memorable party in 1968 in the boulders above Camp 4, when Pratt went bonkers and attacked me screaming something about the full moon and werewolves. I really appreciated Tom's muscle power that night as he dragged Chuck off and put him to bed, not an easy feat by any means! Like Eric, I would have voted Tom the least likely climber I knew to have mental problems. He always came across to me as one of the more sensible and stable ones.

The last time I saw Tom was in 1972 just before I went to Nepal and he seemed his same thoughtful, ironic self. I was surprised and saddened when I inquired about him while trying to organize the Sacherer memorial. As a friend to both Frank and I, I had hoped he could attend. Now I'm glad to hear that he went on to do well at least for a time, at photography and school, and had a girlfriend. Like many in Camp 4 he used to worry that would never happen. Truly, may Tom as both a good friend and person, rest in peace.
j. Gerughty

Social climber
Pacifica
Sep 5, 2013 - 11:06pm PT
I have a date and a place for the memorial. Sat. Nov 16.
Time to be announced.
see
http://norcalhostels.org/marin


I would love to display photos- both his and of him. Not sure how to make this happen. I would also like to share some of the comments and stories about the climbing days. His nephews had no idea he was a climber.
Any help is much appreciated. This group has done much to help my other brother, my husband and I to process Tommy's passing. We appreciate everyone's comments immensely. Jane
Allen Hill

Social climber
CO.
Sep 5, 2013 - 11:14pm PT
Jim, do you know about NAMI? Great support group. The group has helped my family a lot. This story is so familiar. I wish the best and send my support to his family and friends. God send.
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Sep 6, 2013 - 12:05am PT
I would love to display photos- both his and of him.
Not sure how to make this happen.
Are you in possession of his photos?
Are they prints, black&white negatives, or color slides?
Any of these can be scanned or printed.
If you don't have the time/interest, some of us can help.
Roger Breedlove

climber
Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Sep 6, 2013 - 06:24am PT
I just recalled a b/w photo that Tom showed to me sometime in the early 70s. It was a simple composition of a path through a thick forest with the sun light streaming through the trees, but probably very difficult to get right. Technically it was perfect--for those of us who saw b/w pictures through Ansel Adam's definitions. Tom was very proud of it. If that turns up, it should be included in Tom's photos.

I teased him and said it looked like an ad shot for "Diamonds are Forever." With two young lovers holding hands and walking along, it would have made a great ad photo.
khanom

Trad climber
Greeley Hill
Sep 6, 2013 - 06:54am PT
I'm not sure how to say this. I read the stories of the pantheon of characters from "back in the day" with great interest. Though sometimes they are tinged with sadness they always add a richness of experience to our collective history. For many of us slightly younger folks who weren't there it can mean a great deal to read these things. And it continually amazes me that so many here can add so much to the stories and can paint so vivid a picture of people like Tom.

He sounds like a fascinating person and very much worthy of remembering.

Thank you.
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