(Updated Oct. 6, 2013)
“The odds against becoming the next Frederick Forsythe are, of course, somewhere between merely exponential and astronomical-incredible. I’ll settle for a book-jacket with my name on it.”
— Tom Clancy, 1983, a year before his first novel was published
Word came this morning that author Tom Clancy died yesterday in a Baltimore hospital. He was only 66 years old. My son called early to break the news, so I wouldn’t hear it first on television.
You see, Tom was an old family friend. My husband and I first met him and his wife Wanda back in Hartford, Conn., in the fall of 1969, when the guys were in an insurance management class together. When the class ended in the spring, Tom and Wanda went back to Towson, Md., and we were assigned to a company office in Philadelphia.
We got together as often as we could, playing lots of cribbage and Milles Bornes and filling up on steak fondue. (My son, only a year old at the time, mentioned today that he still has that old Milles Bornes set, complete with a score sheet for the four of us. I had no idea those cards still existed.) I recall being at their place more often than ours, as we were in an apartment and they were in a row house. First time I’d ever seen or been in one.
By then Tom had acquired a beautiful Samoyed dog named Balti (short for Baltimore), which he got because he so admired ours (named Zen). I remember he had to put some sheet metal on the bottom half of their basement door to keep Balti from destroying it.
Inevitably friends will find topics where they disagree. Tom and I locked horns one night when the conversation somehow turned to big game hunting. He was rather gung ho about it and I was riled that he’d consider shooting any endangered animal. He thought zoos were the solution. The conversation was polite, but we never went there again.
Another memory: One of Tom’s favorite singing groups in those days was the Clancy Brothers (no relation). Naturally. He was so proud of his Irish heritage.
The last time I saw Tom was in 1971 or 72, while we were living in Atlanta. He and Wanda came through on their way to Disney World. At some point we went to the downtown Marriott Hotel for after-dinner drinks because the top-floor revolving bar reportedly had a great view of the city. One got to the bar via a glass elevator that popped out through the roof of the hotel, affording a breathtaking view of the city, before entering the bar above. Tom urgently sought a stairway to use instead. The wannabe military man was having none of that elevator.
My memories of Tom are pretty much frozen in those years, leaving me to think of him always as a tall, slender, reddish haired young man with the personality displayed in the following letters. I never knew the heavier set, serious man that appeared occasionally on TV talking about the military and politics as though he actually were a military man or politician. To me he was just an average guy who sold insurance and liked to write.
My son Rich and his dad, however, have more recent memories. The now-ex once visited Tom at his estate in Calvert County, the one with a real tank in the front yard. And just two years ago Rich was in Baltimore on business — and was Tom’s guest at an Orioles game. Private box and all that. Rich now has his photo with Tom at the ball park. And somewhere I still have mine of Tom bouncing a 2-year-old Rich on his knee.
We kept in touch with Tom for some years after our return to Oklahoma City in 1973. The guys talked insurance, while Tom and I would focus more on his life as a writer. My contribution as a young copy editor: Somewhere in the first edition of The Hunt for Red October I caught a misspelling of ophthalmic that was corrected in later editions.
Although Tom and I gradually lost touch with each other, I was able to track him down in 2001 and get his permission (email, 1/29/01) to publish four letters I still had. At the time I had to retype them to get them onto my then very primitive website. Now I can scan them at home and present them as images, so they won’t lose any of their Clancy character.
The first letter is the shortest, only two typewritten pages, sent while Tom was polishing his final Hunt manuscript. It appears below.
The second letter, dated 11/1/84, includes comments in reply to a letter from me about Hunt, comments about computers of the day (“Wowie-Zowie”), and an update on the sales of Hunt.
The third letter, dated 2/5/85, is another progress report on Hunt sales, news that his book is being read in the White House, the sale of his Sunset (working title of Red Storm Rising) manuscript (“the continuing adventures of Tom Clancy, boy-writer”) and acquisition of a new agent; and about meeting with some Navy brass and others.
The last letter, dated 3/8/85–3/20/85, is a 14-page novella describing lunch at the Pentagon; the events leading up to his first appearance on national TV and the day itself (“didn’t throw up, had my fly zipped”); news of an upcoming article in Time magazine; more reports on the progress of Hunt sales; a delightfully detailed account of his first trip to the White House to meet President Reagan (“This is a mensch!”), and another of his first state dinner at the White House.
I’ve set myself quite a task, having no idea yet of the best or most efficient way to present the letters here. Especially considering the length of those remaining. But I have a chance now to show what they actually look like, instead of transcribing them as I did years ago, and I’m looking forward to doing that. Stay tuned. I think you’ll get a kick out of the young Tom Clancy.
R.I.P. Tom. Dammit, man, I’m going to miss knowing you’re in my world.