My Brother-Cousin

Father and Daughter

Tommy asked for forgiveness. Tommy Panos and I were first cousins; our mothers were sisters. Our families lived in the same city, Fresno, then on the same block, then right next door with a pass-through in the fence. Our families were close, and I am an only child, and so I always looked up to Tommy as my big brother. He was five years older than me.

I remember when I was about four years old, Tommy’s family would come visit ours on West Cornell Ave., and Tommy would push me around the block on my tricycle — me on the seat and Tommy standing on the step behind me, steering and pushing with the other leg as on a scooter. Typically, the ride started out fun, and then got exciting, then got thrilling, then got terrifying as Tommy jumped off and I frantically tried to steer until my trike slowed to a manageable speed. Then I was ready for another lap.

A few years later we both lived on Griffith Way. I would beg to hang around with him. Tommy would offer to hike me on his bike to go to the 7-11 to get candy or a slurpee. I would get on the handlebars of his Schwinn Varsity 10-speed. Tommy would take off and by half way down the block we would be moving pretty fast. That’s when he’d simply jump off the bike and see how far it would stay up with me on the handlebars before it went crashing over. He’d laugh hysterically, but then come and get me up and hug me, and then buy me some candy.

I would beg, beg, beg for him to take me on his paper route (Fresno Bee) with him. This meant he would hike me on the back of the heavy-duty Schwinn with the paper bags. I don’t know how he survived hiking me along with all those newspapers. Getting to go along meant helping too, and that was fine with me. He would ask for papers and I would pull them out and hand them to him as needed. We would always stop at the 7-11 and get black pepper beef jerky, some candy or a coke.

There was only one catch: Rover. The huge carmel-brown dog at the corner of Swift and College or so. I can’t remember if it was a hound or what. I just remember that Tom would miss that porch and I would be sent to go get the paper and put it on the porch. That meant facing Rover. That deep bark blew my hair back and set me to tears. Usually Rover was lying around right in front of the porch and I would start to inch my way toward the ivy to hunt for the paper, the dog bellowing at me the entire time. Tommy would laugh and laugh. Then, he’d buy me all kinds of treats at the 7-11. We’d sit around and he’d counsel me on bikes and cars and making paper airplanes, anything else that his quick mind conjured. Somehow, I never got bitten. I also never quit looking up to him, appreciating his spirit, sense of fun, and sheer coolness. But I never got over my fear of dogs. It was nice of Tommy to try to break me free of it. Sort of.

We told all these stories before, when Tommy was my best man. We laughed and laughed, and ate and drank, and laughed some more. By then, he had gone off to San Francisco and success selling bond investments. He still had his sense of fun and his need to share everything he found and everything he enjoyed with those around him.

Once when I was about 17, i went to the Bay Area for a concert, and, of course, my friend and I stayed with Tommy. When my friend left the next day, Tommy had insisted I stay the weekend to hang out with him and said he’d get me home. Sunday afternoon came and no arrangements had been made. Tommy called an agent and arranged to fly me back to Fresno. The next flight out of Oakland was in about an hour. We took off from his house in Orinda, drove insanely fast to the airport, and ran to the counter. He slapped the ticket in my hand, and gave me a push. I ran through the terminal and got to the plane with the hostess impatiently holding the door open for me, the last person to get on, for my very first plane flight ever.

There were many other firsts for me and Sarah with Tommy. And Tommy always insisted on paying for everything. Our first time dining at Fourth Street Bar and Grill in Berkeley, back before anything else was there at all; our first time at Zuni Cafe in San Francisco, and at the famous Stars, and innumerable other restaurants, bars and theaters. My first, and only, show at ACT to see Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. And to the Bammies, and concerts, and to nightclubs here and gone. He took me on my first hike up to Cataract Falls on Mt Tam, and after the hike, straight to Frogs Spa for a soak and a massage. He loved food, and loved to cook, and the list of foods and dishes he introduced me to is endless.

Tommy had keen senses and became a connoisseur of everything in which he took an interest, from primitive art to jazz music. But more than that, he could not really enjoy anything unless he was sharing it with those whom he loved. One of the things he loved to share was people. He introduced so many people to each other, and gathered so many smart, interesting, and wonderful people around him, he was the hub of an incredible 360 degrees without separation. He was the most generous person I have ever known or ever will know. He wanted to do everything for everybody. He wanted to at least do something for each person he ever bumped into.

Somehow, in a way we will never understand, this desire consumed him. His most selfish act was to take himself away from this world and all those who love him so much, in order to escape the feeling that he had to be there for everyone.

Tommy. Honey. Brother. I love you. I miss you. I forgive you. I hope your wondrous spirit will continue to teach me and guide me.

Obit in sfgate.


7 Responses to “My Brother-Cousin”

  1. 1 lisa grotts of jp fame
    July 21, 2008 at 11:11 pm

    nick, so sorry again about tommy. i know how hard this is. i cannot imagine what it will be like for years to come for the family, namely maia and sophia.

    maybe i am being overly senstivie, but i love the story and photos yet the first line saying he killed himself is a tough read. i am of course only thinking of maia. perhaps you would consider changing it to he died. sorry to be nosy but it worries me that she will be oging online and she has felt enough pain for a lifetime.

  2. 2 neocles
    July 21, 2008 at 11:48 pm

    Hi Lisa! Thank you very much for stopping and checking out my words. thanks also for being frank with me about your feelings. I really appreciate it. I don’t think you are being either overly sensitive or nosy. I know it is a bit tough. It’s the way i felt when sat down to write. I wrote what I felt and I didn’t pull punches. Tommy sure didn’t pull punches either. (That is not to say that this is necessarily a good thing.) I worried about it after i wrote it, but I asked a few people about it and they were supportive.

    Nonetheless, your point about the person most likely to feel extra pain is valid. At least for now, I have edited it. Perhaps in the passage of time, I will return to the original.

    I hope to see you both again soon.


  3. 3 Denise Samue
    July 21, 2008 at 11:51 pm

    This is to the Panos family:

    Please accept my condolences. I only knew Tom for a short while but he was such a great guy. I know he loved his family very much. His face just lit up every time he talked about his wife and daughter. He was the most generous, intelligent and kindest person I’ve ever met. He planted an apple tree in my front yard because I said I liked one of the apples that his father had grown. He brought my mother and I Thanksgiving dinner because he knew we would be moving that day and wouldn’t have the time or energy to cook. It’s hard to believe such a gentle soul is gone, but then I know in my heart Tom will always look out for his wife and daughter no matter where he is. I will celebrate his life and the huge footprint of kindness he left for others.

    Please let his wife and daughter know I will pray for him and his family, and I’m grateful to have known him.


  4. 4 Ange
    July 23, 2008 at 2:29 pm

    Hi Neo. Bryan told me about your cousin’s passing and I just want to express my condolences to you, Sarah and Theo. You are in my thoughts – may the memories bring peace and comfort to all who knew him. All the best, Ange

  5. 5 Candida Condor
    July 31, 2008 at 5:19 pm

    Hi Neo,

    I am so sorry to hear about Tommy’s demise. I’ve known him since 1989 when mutual friends of ours from Maui suggested that we might have similar interests. Tom was like my little brother.

    From time to time over the past many years Tom has come to visit or called to talk when he was down. I wish he had this time.

    He loved each of you so very dearly. Each time we spoke, no matter how briefly, he would share some stories about you, Maia & Sophia, his sister & father, and a memory of his mom.

    He was a very dear man, as you know.
    And dearly loved by far-flung friends.
    I send you my deepest sympathy,

  6. 6 neocles
    July 31, 2008 at 10:59 pm

    Hi Candida,

    Thanks so much for your kind words. We are sad, but it is so nice to hear from Tommy’s friends. Tommy touched many lives and brought lots of wonderful people together. I hope to stay in touch with as many as possible. I think his legacy will last for a very long time.


  7. 7 ian waters
    May 13, 2009 at 2:58 pm

    Wow, just came across this after a piece of music made me think of Tom.

    I met Tom in the mid/late 90s while a bunch of us were trying to start a music internet company. Tom was a kind man. He put me up in his house more times than I can count (we were all starving/broke computer geeks).

    I’ll always remember meeting him. It was at a business meeting in Palo Alto where he was sold (by us 20-something kids) the idea of the music/net thing. As we were driving away he pulled up to us on 101 (was driving a little convertible), and I leaned out the passenger window of a car to accept a zoob (building toy thing) from him. Felt as if I was being passed some sort of ridiculous baton.

    I have many memories of hanging out with him at various offices, parties, weddings over the years; and am quite sad that he’s gone.

    You’ll be missed Tom.

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