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Humor, music and a toast highlight Tom Flood memorial in Niskayuna

Humor, music and a toast highlight Tom Flood memorial in Niskayuna

1,300-seat NHS auditorium nearly filled
Humor, music and a toast highlight Tom Flood memorial in Niskayuna
Photographer: PETER R. BARBER/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER

Thomas Flood could not abide sorrow and tears at funeral services.

That was the main reason people remembered Flood -- the former Niskayuna High School teacher who drowned in Vermont on July 5 -- with a rocking, humorous and emotional memorial service on July 11 at the school.

"That was the plan all along," said Lucas Thomas Flood, Flood's eldest son. "It's light-hearted, just good memories, good thoughts about my dad. That's kind of what we wanted, that's why we did this.

"My mom wanted to keep it private, but my brother and I knew how many people wanted to get together and wanted to come do it," Lucas Flood added. "My dad always hated wakes and funerals. ... That's just the kind of the dude that he was."

"The Dude" was at the service, too. One of Tom Flood's favorite movies was "The Big Lebowski," the 1998 comedy starring Jeff Bridges as the laid-back, cooled-out "Dude," a guy who finds weird trouble in odd Los Angeles. A large photo of the bathrobe-wearing "Dude," dancing on his prized rug while holding a "Caucasian" -- the character's signature White Russian drink -- filled the movie screen on the auditorium stage.

Music warmed up the large crowd as they nearly filled the 1,300-seat room. Rock songs such as Black Sabbath's "War Pigs" and "Iron Man" and the Rolling Stones' "Wild Horses" played at volumes both Flood and the "Dude" would have appreciated.

"This is very unprecedented here," said Niskayuna High School Principal John Rickert, who said Flood worked at the school for about 30 years until his retirement in 2014. "But I think it's very indicative of the overwhelming support that Tom had, not just as a teacher. He really touched a lot of lives beyond the school itself."

As people walked into the auditorium, they explained why they wanted to salute their friend.

"We've been family friends since our kids were in Little League together," said Lisa Manikas of Rotterdam. "The kids played basketball, he was a coach then. He was a great guy, he was full of life."

Jessica Fecura of Burlington, Vermont, and Jessica Welge of Rexford, both 22 and both members of Niskayuna's Class of 2013, said they met in a Tom Flood class.

"I remember him sitting with his feet up on the desk with his hands behind his head," Fecura said. "I'm a teacher now, so I think of him a lot."

Peter Warren, a recently retired social studies teacher, said Flood loved people and loved the joy that came with meeting a new class for the first time.

"He loved to tell a story," Warren said, as the program's first speaker. "He also loved to hear stories."

Warren said Flood would express approval or excitement by stating 'Whoa!'

"When you really lit him up it was 'Whoooaaa!'" Warren said. "I lit him up a few times, I'm proud to say that."

Warren, who wore a black pullover shirt, light gray shorts and black sneakers on stage, also said he and Flood were amateur musicians who in 2000 played a five-song set at a Schenectady bar -- with colleagues in the audience. Learning and practicing the set list proved more difficult than the guitarists first thought.

The concert was a success.

Warren played one of the songs from that night, "Willin'" -- once played by the band Little Feat. He cautioned that some of the lyrics were probably not appropriate -- in a high school, anyway -- but decided to forge ahead.

"We're celebrating our 'Dude!'" he said, to loud applause.

Warren later said his outfit was a tribute to Flood.

"Tom was always in casual mode," he said. "Always appropriate for the job, but relaxed. I wanted to represent that feeling."

Mark Treanor, a former special education teacher and former assistant principal at the school, praised Flood's character.

"Tom was a nice man who saw the good in everybody," Treanor said.

Flood, Treanor added, didn't worry about the small things. And he was never in a hurry going to places around the school.

"Tom understood he didn't teach English," Treanor said. "He taught kids."

Treanor also said a letter to the editor that appeared in the July 11 edition of The Daily Gazette -- written by former Flood student Kathryn Corah -- was a nice salute to his friend.

"It speaks the truth," Treanor said. "It's also evidence Kathryn had a pretty good English teacher."

"Thanks!" said a voice from the audience, Kathryn herself.

Lucas Flood said he wrote his tribute to his 61-year-old father by sampling Tom's collection of random beers. It was not a good experience.

"They tasted horrible," he said, to laughs. "It was awful."

Flood said people appreciated his father. And he appreciated them.

"You are the reasons he woke up every day," Lucas Flood said. "On July 5, I believe Tom died the richest man in the world."

Flood also ducked off the stage for a few moments and returned wearing a black bathrobe and carrying a White Russian. He toasted his father, as friends and family cheered.

Flood's wife, Colleen, and son Samuel also appeared on stage.

"So many stories have been shared and we've enjoyed them all," Colleen Flood said, adding she especially appreciated words from Tom's former students.

"They've shared so many special memories with us," she said. "Those stories have helped us more than you will ever know over this past week."

Colleen Flood added that she and her family would soon meet with Niskayuna school officials to discuss a memorial award or scholarship in Tom Flood's name.

"Tom, the boys did good," Colleen added. "I think this was a party."

Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 518-395-3124 or at wilkin@dailygazette.com.  

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