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Thursday, 25 May 2017 16:39

A Tribute to Tom and Sue Sharp

After spending the Mother's Day weekend with my son Todd and his family, I was driving north on the 495 Beltway. My hands were tightly gripping the steering wheel when my blue-tooth showed an incoming call from Laurie Sharp Chenez.  Seeing her name made my heart sink.  I knew this would not be a good call. After finding a safe place to pull over, I tried calling Laurie back but was unable to reach her. Next, I called her sister, Stephanie who told me that her father, Tom, had been taken to the hospital. She said he had pneumonia but they were optimistic he would get through this latest crisis.  When he had been diagnosed with leukemia the year before, the prognosis was good. However, for the past few months he had been progressively been getting worse. Because Sue is one of my closest friends, and often more like a sister, I called her as soon as I got home. She told me the news was not good―the leukemia had accelerated and at best, he may have a few more weeks to live. I could feel her pain through the phone. We agreed to pray that he would pass peacefully in his sleep. Two days later, he did.

On Tuesday, I took my granddaughter Sophie shopping to get a few things for her trip to Costa Rica in June.  As I was pulling into the Ross Park Mall in Pittsburgh, my phone rang again. It was Sue Sharp. I instructed Sophie to go into the mall and I told her I would meet her when I finished my call. The first words I heard when I answered my phone were, "We lost our Tommy today."  At that moment, I wished I were by her side to hold her and console her. Instead, I did my best to comfort her through the phone.

Sue called later that evening to tell me about the funeral arrangements.  She closed the conversation by saying, "And remember- YOU are part of this family."  My heart soared.  My sons and I have been part of this family since 1965―even through the divorce.

I first met Tom and Sue in December 1965. I had given birth to Todd on October 22nd. Sue had given birth to her first son, Billy Joe on December 1st. When Randy told me his brother Tom and his wife, Sue had invited us for dinner, I was extremely nervous. Randy and I were not married yet, and I was afraid they might not accept me. The moment I walked into their charming home, any uncertainty I had been feeling faded away. Tom was a strikingly handsome man, with dark hair, dark eyes, and a winning smile. The warmth and beauty of Sue emerged through her friendly, smiling eyes. I was then introduced to their darling daughters, Stephanie and Laurie. Stephanie, the older of the two, looked like a beautiful porcelain doll with curly, dark hair and almond-shaped eyes. She seemed to be shy like her father. Laurie reminded me of a fairy princess with blonde hair, sparkling eyes like her mother, and a pretty smile. These two little girls stole my heart, just as their mother had.

After dinner, Sue and I sat on the couch holding each other’s son. We laughed about the things our boys would probably do as they grew up as cousins. By the end of the evening, I found myself wishing Todd and I could become part of this beautiful family. We needed them. My desire for a normal, loving family grew even stronger when I met Randy’s sister, Janet and his brother, John.

Through the years, Sue and I have become best friends. I was drawn by her warm personality, witty sense of humor and loving heart. Over the years, we have shared many happy, sad and traumatic experiences. During the darkest tragedies in her life, I have watched as she stoically took control of the situations, dealt with the issues at hand and cared for all those around her.  I admire her more than any woman I know.

Last week, as I was traveling to Jamestown, I thought back to all we have shared over the years.  While I was married to Randy, we often spent Christmas Day with his family at their aunt's house in Jamestown. In the summers, we had family picnics at his grandfather's farm in Bear Lake, NY, and at the Viking's summer place on Lake Chautauqua. When Todd and Billy were toddlers, Sue and I took turns driving them to playschool twice a week. At one point, we lived directly across the street from them on Bush Street, where I spent many mornings having coffee and laughing with Sue as we sat in her cozy kitchen. It was during this time that Sue invited us to join their group of friends for house parties, dinners and dances.  We still laugh about the funny things we did and said back then. During these years, as I watched the interactions between Tom and Sue, I saw what true love and real marriage was all about. I often prayed my marriage could be the same. However, it could not.

In 1976, when Randy and I decided to separate, I made a special trip to Jamestown with Todd and Nathan to personally talk to the Sharp families and say my good-byes. My first stop was Tom and Sue's house. Although they were saddened by the news, they understood why we had come to this decision. As I was preparing to go visit other family members, my son Nathan asked if his cousin, Matthew could go with us. "Of course," I replied.  While visiting Janet and Randy's mother, Marion, they both encouraged me to stay in touch and visit whenever possible.  

During our last stop of the day, Matthew complained of having a bad headache. I immediately took him home and told Sue he was not feeling well.  She called me later that evening to tell me Matthew had been admitted to the WCA Hospital for hepatitis.  I called Randy's mother every day to check on his condition. At the end of the week, Matthew was transferred to Buffalo Children's Hospital.  A few days later, I received a call from Marion telling me that he had passed away. I was in shock and could not fathom the pain Tom and Sue were suffering. I gathered up the boys from school and headed straight to Jamestown. Randy told me he would join us later after he finished up at work.

When I walked into Tom and Sue's home, I was overcome by the devastation on Tom's face. He could barely stand as he sobbed on my shoulder. Although Sue looked as if she was in a trance, she was able to maintain. The first thing she said to me was, "I can't believe this is really happening." This was, by far, the most heart-breaking experience I have ever encountered. To this day, I do not know how Tom and Sue made it through. However, they did. I believe their strong love for each other and their three children was the force that guided them through much heartache throughout the years.

The year before, while Tom was playing baseball, he suffered from an aneurism. He hospitalized for a week before the doctors could perform surgery. The day of the operation, Randy and I returned to Jamestown to sit with Sue while awaiting the results of the surgery. At one point, Sue leaned over and whispered in my ear, " I don't know what I'll do if I lose Tom, but somehow I know I'll live through it. But I cannot imagine what I would do if this was one of my children."  These words came back to haunt me the next year when she lost her youngest son.

Last week, I spent four days with this loving family while Sue mourned the loss of her husband of almost sixty years, and their children and grandchildren mourned the loss of their beloved father and grandfather. At the funeral home, I watched as a long line of friends, relatives, former students and sports participants lined up to offer condolences to the family. Although there were many tears, I think there was more laughter and joy as everyone celebrated the life of Tom Sharp― a man whose influence as a physical education teacher, football coach, baseball player, and friend will last forever.

The entryway at Lind Funeral Home was filled with pictures of all of Tom's athletic accomplishments as well as family photos displaying the joys his family had shared with him. Tom was a soft-spoken, humble man who never bragged. He didn't need to, because everyone who knew him hailed him for his accomplishments. One of Tom's former players was overhead saying, "Coach Sharp realized our potential and affected our lives. As a coach and as a friend his influence will be remembered forever. We thought he was training us for football while he was really training us for life. I am thankful to have played for Coach Sharp and I will miss his leadership and friendship."

Through all of Tom's accomplishments, he always understood that his loving wife, Sue was one of the biggest reasons for his success. She supported everything he did. She stayed home while her children were younger and took care of their every need. While he spent many hours at the practice fields, she kept the home fires burning and tended to the business at hand.  She sat on the bleachers of every game, whether it was football or baseball and cheered him and the team on. She continues to do that today by attending as many sporting events as possible in which her grandchildren participate.

I once compared her to Rose Kennedy because she has been through more than her share of life's tragedies. Yet, she keeps smiling. She does not burden others with her problems and she is always quick to lend a hand to those in need.

I am proud and very blessed to have such a stoic, wonderful woman as my dearest friend. I am sure in the future, we will be able to sit and talk over a glass of wine while we laugh over the lifetime experiences we have shared. I will always be thankful for the friendship, love and support I have been fortunate to share with the Sharp family.  May God bless them!

If you have a special family relationship you would like to share, I would love to hear from you. Please place your comments after my blog.


  • Comment Link Judy Axford Saturday, 27 May 2017 17:57 posted by Judy Axford

    I was fortunate enough to know Tom and Sue Sharp. I also felt like part of their family each time I babysat their children. Sue always made me feel that I could talk to her about my problems. The Sharps are wonderful people and I am thankful to have played a part in their lives. I love you all !

  • Comment Link Bonnie Conklin Friday, 26 May 2017 14:53 posted by Bonnie Conklin

    This will be short and so sweet. I have a special place in my heart for my youngest sister, Judy Kahle. She has been my inspiration, friend, helpmate and sister. I do not know what I would do without her. She protects me, gives me unconditional love, loyalty and is always at my side when I need a friend. She is a very good listener and adviser. I love her so much.

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