MOUNT DESERT — Driven, caring, a goofball, integrous, forward thinking and rooted in his community are some of the ways the people closest to Tom Savage describe him.
“All he ever wanted was for everybody to be the best that they could be,” said Savage’s wife, Meghan, in a conversation with the Islander last week via Zoom.
“He was such a caregiver,” she added. “In a way that wasn’t coddly, but he just wanted to make sure everybody was OK.”
A little over week since his death on Oct. 12, Savage’s family and friends are struggling to be OKwithout him around. They are mourning the loss of a good friend, a valued employer and a treasured family member. Savage died unexpectedly at the Route 102 property where he had based his business, Savage Forest Enterprise Inc., for more than 20 years.
“The island community and then the greater community knew about this tragedy really quickly,” said Savage’s sister, Laura Savage. “I was amazed by things like profile pictures changing on social media to Tom’s logo. I have received calls from all over the world.”
Tom was Laura’s only sibling. Growing up, the two of them lived in close proximity to aunts, uncles and cousins in Northeast Harbor. There were six cousins altogether, with Tom being the youngest.
“Ultimately we were a tribe of six, Tom and I, plus four other cousins,” said Laura, sitting next to her dad, Rick Savage, and Meghan, on Friday. “Tom took a lot of ribbing and was the brunt of a lot of cousins’ antics. The truth is we were always very, very tight. From that pesky youngster trailing after all of the rest of us, he really grew into a very fine man and friend.”
As Rick surmised, the ribbing didn’t cause any long-term psychological harm.
“It made his shoulders broader,” said Meghan. “That guy could handle a lot.”
“He could handle ribbing, and even as an adult, often made himself the brunt of jokes,” Laura added. “He would share stories of himself that were funny and maybe not flattering, but certainly funny. He was always one to share that laughter, even at his own expense.”
Tom also wanted to share the life he lived and the legacy of the Savage family with his three daughters, Meghan and whomever else was interested.
“From the smallest moments,” said Meghan. “He was the photographer in our family. He always had his camera out. Going through his photos, the silliest moments I didn’t know he took pictures of. He cherished every moment.”
Even ones that might seem insignificant, like a video of his wife cleaning the floor, were captured by Savage. “Every moment meant so much to him,” she added.
Few of them were wasted in his 46 years. After attending Mount Desert Island High School, Savage enrolled at Maine Maritime Academy. After playing his first soccer season at the college, he decided to take a break.
“I was shocked when he called, about Thanksgiving, when I found out that he had quit Maine Maritime Academy,” said Rick. “From a father’s perspective, I was a little upset, to say the least. I was building this house. Tom didn’t have any employment and he needed something. I said, well, you’re going to work for me.”
Rick made Tom the foreman to a crew of carpenters who were building the house, and they worked through the winter and into spring. At that point, Herb Watson, the father of one of Tom’s closest friends, and a strong mentor throughout his years in school, had a tree business.
“He decided Herb was a better employer than his dad,” said Rick. “He went to work for Herb, which was the beginning of his tree experience.”
Still interested in earning a degree, Tom enrolled in the business program at Husson University.
“His business project was his Savage Forest business plan,” Meghan explained. “He was playing soccer in college up at Husson. He was starting his business. He started out with a pickup truck and a chainsaw.”
“It was a two-guy operation at that point,” said Laura, about the business that grew to a dozen employees and a fleet of equipment. “He viewed his crew of 12 as his family. He loved, cared for and watched out for them.
“And if that meant exploring other opportunities, he was in full support,” she added. “If that meant taking on new responsibilities, he provided those opportunities. If there were struggles with personal finance, with personal lives, he was there to show his support in whatever way possible.”
One of his longest employees was Jamie Lambert, a Husson soccer teammate and a dear friend. Rick tells the story of Tom and Jamie meeting at college. Tom was a few years older and Jamie mistook him for the coach. From then on, Tom was dubbed ‘Grampy’ by his friend.
“Jamie was one of his first employees,” said Rick. “He is now his foreman.”
Outside of organizing adult soccer leagues on MDI, Tom also coached soccer at Mount Desert Elementary School and then 10 years as the MDIHS varsity girls’ coach.
“My kids call all of the team girls, ‘Tom’s soccer girls,’” said Meghan, who also coached with Savage. “The outpour from Tom’s soccer girls has just been incredible. It’s been amazing.”
As for his own girls, Meghan says they are heartbroken but surrounded by a very supportive community of family and friends – generations of family in the same place where he grew up.
“His island heritage and family heritage here was so important and the legacy from past to future,” said Meghan. “Everything he did, he would always say, Meghan, this isn’t for us. It’s kind of for our kids, but it’s really for our grandkids.”
Evidence of a legacy can take many forms.
“Sometimes we don’t know how important we are, or somebody is, until something like this happens,” said Rick. “I’ve been so impressed with the outpour of sincere grief and caring. I’ve just actually never seen anything like it in my lifetime at this level. It’s just so sincere, and I’m very, very proud of him because of it.”
Bunky Dow, athletic director of MDIHS, organized a moment of silence at a recent high school soccer game in honor of Tom. Family, friends and members of the community offered words of encouragement and support on Sunday through messages written on bags for a giant, heart-shaped configuration of luminarias at the Northeast Harbor Village Green. Even the town’s fire department brought a truck to capture the moment from on top of the ladder and with a drone camera.
“It’s those things that the community are organizing, that we’re not organizing, that really, really touch us and remind us how influential Tom was and how important he was to the community,” said Laura. “All of the cards, the notes, the emails, the beautiful letters that we’ve received reminds us. He was a treasure to us, but he was also a treasure to the community. We feel his loss and so does the community.”