Obituary of Tom Wilkerson
We lost Tommie Wilkerson on July 6, 2023. He was 77 years old.
Tom was born in Apache, Oklahoma, on January 8, 1946, to Gainie and Ruby Wilkerson. His life was one lived to the fullest, characterized by passion (and compassion), poetry, adventure, and always with a profound love of family and friends.
Growing up on a farm instilled in Tom a strong ‘can do’ ethic and indomitable spirit, as well as an abiding appreciation for the subtle beauty and raw power of nature. The middle boy of seven other brothers, each of whom he would do anything for, Tom enjoyed staying in touch with them and keeping each close in his thoughts. He loved to learn their news and would happily fly out to pay a visit or call to catch up, or host when they RV-ed out to see him.
Talented at baseball, and with a knack for storytelling, he was also fascinated by flying airplanes from an early age. Flying seemed to embody his appreciation for harnessing the technical mastery of a discipline (be it mechanical, musical, or literary) with the limitless joy of feeling free and unfettered; empowered to venture anywhere.
With a fondness for the arts and a technical gift for engineering, Tom's love for learning and, specifically, studying literature was lifelong. It was truly as immense as the skies he traversed. He loved to philosophize and seek knowledge — from reading or by traveling — about different and diverse cultures or traditions. He kept abreast of current affairs and past events, too. Joining the dots to build a deeper insight or get a fresh perspective into any given topic was a favorite pastime. He liked to laugh (a lot) and had a healthy appetite for satire and, you might say, for exposing the emperor’s new clothes. Favorite writers included Mark Twain, whom he impersonated to a tee for a community drama production. The American poet Stephen Crane, on whom he wrote his master’s dissertation, was another writer among several that he could quote at length.
After graduating from Apache High School, he gained a B.A. at Central State College. Thereafter, he earned a master’s degree in English Literature from Wichita State University. While in college, he met and married Patricia Seesaran. Their two children, Daphne and Aaron, were born in Lawton, OK.
Time spent soaring the skies in his J3 Cub and imparting the joy of flying to his children were among Tom’s treasured hours of the tens of thousands that made up his career as a flight instructor. An educator to the core – gentle, perceptive, and caring – he spent time as an adjunct professor of literature at Florida International University for a number of years.
Tom and his beloved partner, Robin Kleeman, moved from Florida to California’s Wine Country. Soon after, Daphne and her husband David decided to move to San Francisco. Then Aaron and his wife Alejandra chose to relocate to Northern CA. Tom was overjoyed that his family unit was close by.
This was a time of joy and rapid change as both children were starting their own families, ultimately bestowing on him the gift of being a grandfather many times over.
He is survived by eight grandchildren — Vivienne, Daisy, Josephine, Aaron, Xavier, Paloma, Belén and Celeste, who will miss being spoiled by him and will cherish his life and legacy. He delighted in sharing their company, saying on a recent summer day on the Sonoma vineyard where he and Robin lived, and surrounded by kids and pets: “I have everything I need here.”
An accomplished guitar player, finding peace in the soulful melodies he strummed—from the Beatles to Willie Nelson and taking in countless other musicians and genres—the rhythm of life and thrill of the wanderlust burned brightly within Tom's heart. Throughout his life, he chose to live in numerous places (always preferring warmer climates) including Mexico, Miami, and California to name a few.
His travels not only satisfied a thirst for exploration but also inspired Tom’s writing. Oh, did he love to write. And he liked to read to you what he had written, voicing each character with a different inflection as he narrated the latest chapter of a novella he was working on. These tales also sounded more than a little autobiographical, so rich was the detail. Tom possessed a remarkable ability to weave stories filled with vibrant descriptions and captivating characters that you knew he must somehow have met. His appetite for craftsmanship and clarity spoke to Tom’s talent for seeking out those notes in life for believing in people (and things) that resonate and ring true.
Legendary for always lending a helping hand to others and selflessly putting their needs before his own, Tom was widely loved and respected. He held deep values which shone through on countless occasions, sometimes heroically and most often with a twinkle of mischief in the eye. Such acts ranged from rescuing and taking in stray pets, to fixing strangers’ cars, to grabbing whatever came to hand in an effort to quell raging wildfires. He was stoic and heroic.
Tom could fend for himself and his nearest and dearest, too. On one occasion in the 80s, he was obliged to fix his own overheating vehicle on a 100-degree-plus day in Death Valley using little more than baling wire that he had refused to discard. Miles from anywhere. No one else in sight. Just him and his two young kids, who were alarmed yet confident he’d figure something out. He did. (Well, you never know when something small might make a big difference.)
Tom's spirit embodied both adventure and kindness. His driving desire for knowledge allowed him to connect easily with people from all walks of life. He enjoyed sharing conversation and adding to his (and to others’) repertoire of rich experiences. A warm host and a gracious guest, Tom had a keen talent for observing the human species and making people feel welcome. Or just going with the flow.
And so we bid farewell to a soul who left an indelible mark on those fortunate enough to have known him. Tom Wilkerson's legacy will forever be remembered as someone who was all in for the ride, a kind and brave explorer of worlds both external and internal, and who had a true appreciation of the power and potential of the written and spoken word to bring joy. May he rest in happy peace, forever flying amongst the clouds he loved so dearly.
He was preceded in death by his parents, his brother Buddy, and two of his sisters-in-law, Dianna and Donis.
Tom is survived by his loving partner, Robin; his daughter, Daphne, and his son, Aaron, whom he could not have adored any more deeply; his precious eight grandchildren; his dear brothers and their families: Zack and wife Jean of El Dorado, KS; sister-in-law, Beverly, wife of his late brother, Buddy of Amarillo, TX; Richard, of Duncan, OK; Alvin and wife Anna of Fletcher, OK; Kenny of Rochester, WA; Gary and wife Sandi of Elgin, OK; and Timmy and wife Krystal of Apache, OK.To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Tom Wilkerson, please visit Tribute Store