Tom Cronin’s passing marked with ‘Irish Wake’
Tom Cronin never did anything small.
And those who love him took that philosophy to heart Thursday with a joyous celebration of life service for “a life well lived.”
The center parking lot of the Shell Factory was transformed into a five-star restaurant, complete with a live band, great food and drink, and of course, great memories of the man who had a hand in making Lee County what it is today.
It was Cronin’s wish that an “Irish Wake” be celebrated in his memory, and there was no expense spared in making that a reality as hundreds came to hear stories of Tom, laugh a lot, cry a little, and remember the man who touched their lives and helped shape a community.
Master of ceremonies Jon Finstrom called the Irish Wake, “a time for joy and sadness, the joy of a life well lived. Kind of like a roast but without me in it.”
Even before the program, the band played while pictures from Cronin’s life with family, friends and, a few times, his trusty companion, the harmonica, were shown.
Once the event started, it was filled with stories, praise and laughter.
Father-in-law Richard Dunmire praised Cronin as a family man who was loved because he loved back.
“He loved his wife, his country, having fun, his Tuesday Night Men’s Club, the Shell Factory and the creation of the nature park and all of you,” Dunmire said before looking at his daughter, Pam. “All the days of my life I will help Pam keep his dream alive.”
Mostly, the service was about the good times of a man who was both a star in business and the life of any party as told by many of those whose lives Tommy touched the most.
Father Robert Browning, rector emeritus at St. Hilary’s, used Psalm 23 to describe Cronin saying, “His Cup runneth over with love,” before pulling out a mini harmonica and playing “When the Saints Come Marching In” as Cronin came in via video for his harmonica solo, from his wedding day.
There were some great one-liners that brought laughter. Bruce Strayhorn said there were stories he couldn’t tell because “the statute of limitations hasn’t run out on me,” and daughter Martine Cronin joked as she was ready to speak that there was no place to put her beer.
Mike Geml talked about how Cronin came to him to discuss starting a new bank and how he wanted him to help run it. Although he had worked with his then-employer for 14 years, Geml said Cronin convinced him to take a leap of faith although he did pause to ask himself, “Who’s Tom Cronin?”
“In 1993 the bank became the first local company listed on NASDAQ. When I retired and went into consulting in 2009, my first client was The Shell Factory,” Geml said. “In some way, I was able to repay him.”
Former county commissioner Tammy Hall felt the same way after Cronin gave her an opportunity to start her career.
“Tom opened doors for me. I wouldn’t be here with all the privilege and blessings I have without him,” Hall said. “He saw my passion. He was a friend and mentor.”
In between the speakers were taped anecdotes from people regarding Cronin’s life.
The event also featured the Lee County Sheriff’s Office Color Guard, the Lee County Bagpipers playing Amazing Grace and Lee County Commissioner Brian Hamman with a proclamation declaring Thursday “Tommy Cronin Day in Lee County.”
The wake ended with a final toast to Tom (Hakuna Matata) before all his friends got on stage one more time to sing a farewell song to him karaoke style, “The Unicorn Song” by the Irish Rovers.
It was certainly quite a party. Upon leaving, longtime friend Danny Ballard said “Tommy Cronin not only threw a good party, he was the party. He could go into a place that’s dead and in 30 minutes make it the place to be. That was Tom.”