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Thomas “Tommy” Gomez was a family man, actor, director, teacher, mentor, musician, carpenter, Shakespeare devotee and more. Those who knew him remember his friendship and kindness.
On Feb. 16, after a snowstorm, Gomez, 55, died of a massive heart attack helping another parent whose car was stuck in a drift. It was the type of kindness Gomez was known for.
Katie Doyle was properties manager, among other responsibilities, at BoarsHead Theatre. She met Gomez when he was an intern and master carpenter for a 1984 touring production of “Letters From Bernice.”
“Sometimes you have in your life a very extraordinary friend. This man, Tommy Gomez, he’s that very extraordinary friend. I am a better actor, and more importantly, a better person because of Tommy,” Doyle said. “I’m overwhelmed by the fact that I received a wonderful gift in knowing him.”
Melissa Kaplan, Lansing Community College’s academic outreach coordinator, first knew Gomez while promoting BoarsHead in 1982. She said his e-mails were always focused, funny and full of exclamation points.
“That’s what he was like in person, he entered the room like an exclamation point,” Kaplan said. “He burst with energy, ideas and intellect. He was so very kind and fun.”
As a youth, Gomez was a farmhand in Olivet and Charlotte. In third grade, the second-generation Mexican immigrant worked on an onion farm in Eaton Rapids. He also was a training jockey at Jackson Harness Raceway. After joining the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act program that put Gomez in schools to teach kids acting, his life changed.
The Olivet High School graduate went on to travel the country to direct and act in Shakespeare plays. Gomez co-founded the American Shakespeare Collective and taught at LCC, MSU and the University of Michigan — making friends along the way.
Gomez performed at the Old Globe Theatre, the American Conservatory Theatre, Berkley Repertory Theatre, California and San Francisco Shakespeare festivals, Purple Rose Theatre and more. He studied under the respected Shakespearian actor Douglas Campbell, of Canada’s Stratford Festival.
Locally, Gomez is remembered for roles like Selznick in BoarsHead’s “Moonlight and Magnolias,” Iago in “Othello” at LCC, Christopher Sly in a Turner Festival production of “The Taming of the Shrew” and directing his LCC students in “Dining Room.”
Gomez was the 2006 Tanne Award Recipient for his artistic “passion and commitment” and for “outstanding achievement.” It recognized Gomez’s work as a drama instructor for incarcerated youth in Michigan, Alabama and California. Before the W.J. Maxey Boys Training School in Whitmore Lake closed in 2015, Gomez taught there. He also performed multiple characters in a one-man show at local elementary schools.
Mark Colson, who teaches at LCC and has an impressive national acting resume, bonded with Gomez 40 years ago on LCC Summer Festival Stages. “Tommy remained devoted to classical theater,” Colson said. “For the rest of his life, he never waivered from his creative path.”
“I have discovered since his passing that I relied on Tommy’s spirit and light as a constant in my life,” Colson said. “My life is darker without him.”
John Lepard, Williamston Theatre’s executive director, knew Gomez when they both went to LCC’s first theater class. “We were roommates for a while in the ’80s in an apartment on South Washington in Lansing,” Lepard said.
A favorite memory was when he and Gomez had to come up quickly with names for an improv show. Gomez chose the cleverest name. “His was Emiliano Zapata Miguel Hidalgo, and I think mine was Doug,” Lepard said. “He will be missed.”
Doak Bloss, an area director, actor and playwright since 1980, is another of Gomez’s long-time friends from LCC. “He took a lead in a play I wrote,” Bloss said. About a year later in 1991, the pair starred in an outdoor LCC production of “Our Town.”
“He was always looking for the truth of a text, never presuming or imposing it,” Bloss said. “That’s my kind of actor.”
Gomez quit teaching at LCC in ’92 to be a full time MSU theater student. After graduating in ’94 — and getting his Actor’s Equity Association card — he and wife, Christina Traister, moved to California. After they returned in 2006 to Charlotte to raise a family, Gomez built their Victorian style house.
Janet Colson said they were an incredibly honest, supportive and respectful wonder couple. “They were better than the movies because they were real,” Colson said.
The actress and playwright, who was last seen in Riverwalk’s “Boy Gets Girl,” remembers when her family lived in Los Angeles and Gomez stopped by after an acting gig. During the visit, the Colsons’ daughter suddenly stopped breathing.
“Tommy, without missing a beat, scooped her up and helped us with infant CPR while we waited for the paramedics,” Colson said. From then on, Colson said she could “trust Tommy with my life.”
In 2014, on the first Experimental Theatre Stage at Lansing’s Renegade Festival, Colson collaborated with Gomez, who added conga playing. “He was a terrific musician, as well as an actor,” she said. Gomez was a founding member of “Fade to Black” and a player in “The Disciples of Funk.”
Gomez and Traister were together for 29 years, and their 25th wedding anniversary is May 3. “I’ve never met a better person in my life,” Traister said. “He was truly my partner in all things.”
Traister, an associate professor of acting and stage combat at the University of Michigan, has her own theatrical history. She taught at MSU, is one of two female Fight Masters and is the president of the Society of American Fight Directors.
Traister has acted in over 50 plays across the country. She was Desdemona to Gomez’s Othello in a TASC production.
“Tommy used to jokingly refer to me as the family stage manager,” Traister said.
“I will spend the rest of my life pouring my energy into our four children, so that they will grow into individuals who will affect positive change in the world just like he did.”
Erin Buitendorp contributed research for this article.