Tom Peterson (1959-1996)
Tom Peterson's Memorial
Affinity 18:7 [July/August 1996]
Tom Peterson was remembered at a memorial service held in Pasadena, California on June 12, 1996, attended by about 40 persons. Tom passed away quietly at his home in Hollywood on June 8, from complications of AIDS. Tom is survived by his companion, Angel, his mother, siblings, and other relatives in South Carolina. His sister represented the family at the memorial service.
Tom was born December 1, 1959, in South Carolina, into a family with a long history in the South. Tom was proud of his Dixie heritage, and Angel spoke of how Tom would talk of his hometown of Cowpers, and the role it played in the Civil War. Tom's ancestors were also some of the earliest converts to the LDS church when missionary work resumed there after the Civil War. They joined sometime around the turn of the century, and were a stalwart family in their local branch.
Tom served a mission to Las Vegas, Nevada from 1979 to 1981. Following his mission he moved to Atlanta where he lived for a few years before coming to Los Angeles in about 1985.
Tom became involved with Affirmation almost immediately after his arrival in LA, and served for several years on the LA Chapter Board of Directors [and National]. He gave many years of dedicated service, and spent many hours on the telephone counseling with people who had called the Affirmation line for help, support, or advice. He is widely remembered for his happy, positive outlook and his ability to blend his Mormon heritage and his sexual orientation. For many years, Tom attended the Hollywood Ward, and had a positive attitude toward the LDS Church and a firm testimony of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. This is especially admirable and noteworthy considering he was excommunicated from the Church in the early 1980's.
The memorial services were presided by Tom's life companion Angel, who opened time to those present to share their memories. Tom's sister told of his childhood, the "Tommy" that she knew, and of the special bond the two of them had built, often seeming the only ones who really "understood" each other. Others remembered Tom's ever-present smile, the hours of time that he joyfully gave to others, his unmatched spirituality, and his love for children. Paul M. said it seemed that Tom had an open line to God, and reminded all of us of the special efficacy that Tom's prayers had. I was reminded of the miraculous healing of a small child from a lesbian couple who attended Affirmation several years ago; a blessing that came quickly after Tom and a companion laid their hands on the child's head and pronounced a priesthood blessing.
Tom loved children, and was something of a godfather or special uncle to many of the Affirmation's children, including the children from the couple mentioned previously, as well as my own two daughters. He spent many fun-filled hours playing with them and baby-sitting! (He used to call us to ask when he could baby-sit. I wonder how many others he did that for???) Most recently, Tom was able to hold Tere and Jacki's new daughter, Kassandra, before his death, and it buoyed his spirits so much that the doctor, on his next visit, asked what had made the change?
Tom's memorial service was a very upbeat and positive experience--very
fitting for the man it honored. Music included "Wind Beneath My Wings,"
and the country western hit song, "I've Got Friends in Low Places." Angel
said this was Tom's favorite and that Tom once had worn it out on him
by setting the CD on permanent repeat mode so that Tom could teach Angel
a line dance to it. It's the first time (probably the last) that I've
heard this song at a memorial service, but it was appropriate, and I'll
never hear the song again without thinking of Tom.
Tom became well known and loved across the country as he attended conferences, served on committees, and participated in activism in various places. We will miss Tom immensely, but he will always be with us in our memories and in our hearts. In all likelihood, he will continue to watch us from the other side of the veil, and who will be there to gently prod and guide us. Anytime I mention Affirmation in a bar, I will remember that it was Tom who taught me that it was a great place for missionary work. I know of several "closeted Mormons" who were discovered in bars because of Tom's eagerness to share what he had.
Thank You Tom, for all you have given us. May we honor your memory by following your example of service and spirituality.
Please add your own tribute by sending an email to James Kent.