Tom Cain, Man with a Vision, Leaves Us

Tom Cain

My old friend Tom Cain died early this morning in a Roanoke hospital, where he had been for a spell. His troubled heart finally gave out after years of threatening to. Tom was in his 70s. I’m not sure exactly where, but he was probably lucky to still be around–and contributing–for as long as he was.

Tom was a retired architect, a staunch environmentalist, a political essayist of a leftist persuasion who revered his native West Virginia, though he often detested the politicians who have laid waste to it.

He was a kindly intellectual, gentle, soft-spoken and persuasive. He could get mad and he could take issue enthusiastically, but he didn’t do that often. He listened in order to hear and he was intelligent enough to learn from those who disagreed with him.

He stood before City Council as a groupĀ  and individual councilmen often, selling his vision of Roanoke. Here is Tom going on about one of his favorite proposed Roanoke projects, one that combined development, education and environmentalism:

“The Lick Run Watershed is a profound educational resource–if we don’t continue to lay waste to it … It would be an unforgivable to bury the unique environmental and cultural potential available at Evans Spring under the banality of unnecessary and unwanted commercial development.”

His solutions were always practical, always had the whole in mind. He was not an environmentalist who never thought of business or development. He worked hard to see the two work together to produce the best results possible for all of us. We don’t see a lot of that kind of thinking, but Tom was clear in the head, always clear.

He could go on … and on … about his projects, but that only showed his passion.

Tom and his companion Ann Masters.

I think a lot of life went out of Tom a few years ago when his almost constant companion, Ann Masters–another strong environmentalist and voice of reason–died on an icy December night when, like Tom, her heart failed. He was sad and lonely, I think, after that. But the passion for saving the earth and its people remained.

I’m sorry he died during the Trump Administration when so much of our hope for the future of our way of life has diminished. Tom, I think, would have liked to see the light in our future, a light that is quite dim now. And with his passing, it is even dimmer.

But, as Tom so frequently said, “Be of good cheer.”

5 thoughts on “Tom Cain, Man with a Vision, Leaves Us

  1. I have only learned very recently of Tom’s passing and feel speechless. We were Peace Corps Volunteers 50 years ago in the Marshall Islands. I learned of his passing as fellow PCVs are planning a reunion. My last contact with Tom was in Arizona when he was in law school. So he became an architect and environmentalist? Obviously I am out-of-touch. For that I am sorry and sad. If any family read this I would like to send a Mass card for Tom but need a snail mail address. Or in care of a friend is OK. On a trip to Alaska a few years ago I met a woman from Elkins and was surprised she didn’t know Tom ! My sincere sympathy to those of you who knew him and Godspeed. in peace, Toni Keinapu

  2. I do not know you. But I am profoundly grateful for your essay about Tom Cain’s life and death.. I always learned something when he spoke up at a Creation Care of committee meeting at OUR LADY OF THE Nazarene. Thank you again.

  3. Tom was a mentor and the first to teach me of the early history of Roanoke, his passion for the waterways and in particular his desire to see a world class botanical garden in Roanoke was an inspiration . I will miss his depth of knowledge and the e-mails sent that he knew would interest – purchance motivate me solutions of the arts with the environment and economic development that would benefit all –

    He would often send me information of what other municipalities accomplished through combining the arts with urban renewal and environmental preservation. Through him I learned about the value of “daylighting” concrete culverted creeks, and turning neighborhood decay into creating community gardens…when I had never given it a thought…He was quiet, and forever patient…and persistent, never giving up…the Sunday before he passed he called me in to discuss who I needed to contact to continue his dream of restoration and preservation of the Lick Run Watershed… he never ever quit, and gave me permission to use his signature sign off…

    Be of Good Cheer –

  4. Building community embraces the infrastructure needed to sustain development, the humanity of people and the importance of Nature.

    Nature, Vitamin N, restores our soul and heals the body both physically and mentally. Tom tried to tell us that message through his walk and his talk.
    Thank you Tom for making the world a better place.

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