Raised on 1940’s and 50’s black and white comedy, Tommy Talaba, was a showman at heart. He was a singing and dancing sensation in kindergarten. His kind and gentle nature led his mother to thinking he should be a minister. He had other plans.
Tom was born in the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan to Irma, a registered nurse of Canadian birth, and Leslie Talaba, a vehicle mechanic/inspection engineer and Hungarian immigrant. He had an older sister Linda and a younger brother Mark. Tom graduated from Michigan State University with a BA in Economics and spent a few summers working at the GM foundry. He started making trips to Canada with his best friend Dale Ackerman. Up to the Stratford theatre festival they went on a regular basis.
The events of the late 1960’s forced a peaceful protest of the Vietnam War and a permanent move to Canada. Tom’s mother missed him dearly as he made a new home north of the border in the booming metropolis of Toronto, Ontario. He would be back to visit, but many years later.
The 1960’s inspired Tom with the music of the Beatles, Eastern Philosophy, healthful vegetarian eating, Monty Python, and a hippy haircut. He would sometimes philosophize on the worlds of mathematics and meditation.
In Toronto, he started working as a teacher at Thornlea Secondary School which had an alternative education curriculum. During the summers, he joined a travelling children’s theatre troupe and became good friends with the late great John Candy.
In the early 1970’s, he married the mother of his two boys, Karoul Chalmers, an actor at the time. Together they bought a few of the original cottages in the east end Beaches neighborhood. Tom had a talent for real estate deals. They rented out some units and stayed in one of the homes with their two sons for a few years. He briefly owned and operated a small cafe in the evenings nearby frequented by the likes of singer/songwriter Dan Hill. It was more known for its live performances than the tuna melts that Tom made when he ran the snack bar. He became a devoted pescetarian. Years went by and he continued to come back to visit that neighborhood for the great friends he had made there.
Tom went on to teach mathematics for almost 30 years at Central Commerce high school in the downtown west end. He did a stint as the representative for the local teachers union and passionately recounted giving the former premier of Ontario, Mike Harris an earful at a rally. One of his teaching colleagues nicknamed him Presidente.
By the time the 1990’s rolled around, he was busy expanding a cottage on Lake Wilcox in the Richmond Hill area north of the city for himself and his wife Barbara Good Dancyger. They spent half of the time at a pied-a-terre in the Annex neighborhood in downtown Toronto. His boys who were living with their mother (divorced from Tom) in Haliburton, Ontario, would visit him in the summer and at Christmas. He occasionally took them for a March Break ski trip out of province.
Overall, by that point, Tom led a fairly low key life outside of teaching. Some of his lifelong hobbies were coin collecting, fine art, hunting down bargains at garage sales or flea markets, and doing home renovations or woodworking projects. Investing and banking was another big passion of his. He developed a great working relationship with his bank managers and financial planners.
In 2000, upon retirement from teaching, he returned to America and bought another house. Eugene, Oregon a much smaller city nestled between the mountains and the Pacific had a perfectly pleasing climate for his golden years. His sister Linda and brother-in-law John Cummens both live there. The three of them would go on hikes and retreats at his time share properties with his partner Irene Sogge. His other sibling, Mark Talaba, now deceased, lived in Pennsylvania at the time, which Tom would visit on occasion for a friendly round of golf. Irene’s three children, their spouses and grandchildren shared their love and lives with him. He was 'Grandpa Tom' to her grandchildren. Some of the trips were in the Jaguar that he proudly purchased in retirement. In Eugene, he was busily involved in choirs, operas, and the Kiwanis club as a carpenter for park buildings, still ever the performer and champion of the underdog. He absolutely loved singing and was a powerful bass, baritone, and tenor. Tom met Irene and together they sang in the Eugene Concert Choir, churches and local concerts. One of his most fondly remembered roles for the Eugene Opera Chorus was that of a pirate in the Pirates of Penzance, a character he truly enjoyed playing.
Following him, his son, Mo, moved out permanently soon after Tom arrived in Eugene. In fact, a few years later after the birth of Mo’s son Akira, Tom proudly got to work co-designing and ensuring Mo would be able to build a home for his new family, Evangeline, Akira, and Miriel. As the building project rolled on, he was always there to lend a hand. In particular, he had a knack for electrical work. He also loved to watch Mo’s band in the late evenings at the local lively rock bar, and never forgot his grandkids birthdays, having chocolates and balloons in hand for every Easter and Valentines Day too.
Wonderful trips to China, Europe, and up the West Coast followed in years to come for Tom. He was also in Canada many times a year to see his eldest son Luke and stay with his old Toronto buddies. The last few times prior to 2018 often included a Blue Jays game, singing in John’s studio with the Cow Jazz band, an event with Louis and the retired teachers, and a joyful evening at his favourite Greek restaurant on the Danforth.
In the year 2019, Tom was diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia. It had been a tumultuous year and a half leading up to that. Mo and his family lovingly cared for Tom in Vancouver, Canada, until it was no longer possible. His final resting place was in The Residences at Clayton Heights in Surrey, British Columbia. He passed away on April 20, 2021.
Tom is best remembered for his kind, joyful, and humorous nature, which he kept going almost until the very end. He never missed the opportunity to put a smile on someone’s face. Tom loved gentle jokes and watching people’s reactions to them. He had a plain wooden box he kept on a table in the living room that he would point to and say, “Oh, I have an old Jack-in-the-Box here. Would you like to see it?” You would say yes and he would approach it slowly and caution you to stand back as he set his hand on the lid. He would take a deep breath and ask, “Are you ready?” "Yes," you would say tensing in anticipation as he slowly opened the lid…and….Nothing. You lean in cautiously to see what went wrong and find that the box holds 4 hand-carved wooden letter blocks spelling out “JACK.” When life dealt him such a serious blow, we thought how lucky it was for him to have such a fun-loving, easy hearted nature.
Thanks to all of the caring staff at the Residences of Clayton Heights and Peace Arch Hospital during such a tough pandemic. Thank you to his caring friends and family members who supported him through the last few years. We hope he is now somewhere in the universe having a jolly good Talaba time. A wise man of pure class, he will forever be with us. Rest in peace Thomas Neal Talaba.
He is survived by his son Morgan Talaba, (partner Evangeline La Roque, grandchildren, Akira Talaba and Miriel Orhai) of Eugene, Oregon by his son Luke Talaba of Toronto, Ontario and also by his sister Linda Talaba Cummens (husband Dr. John A. Cummens CLM) of Eugene, Oregon. His cremated remains will be buried back at Pine Lake Cemetery, West Bloomfield, Michigan with his parents. A memorial service or celebration of life will be planned on a date to be determined. View Tribute Book.