My father died just before Father’s day last year and after all the deaths we’d endured, I just couldn’t bring myself to write about it here. I’m posting his obituary today because he has been on my mind and I miss him deeply. I was lucky to have a wonderful, if flawed, dad. He liked to call himself Zoot, after his favorite jazz trumpet player, Zoot Sims. He dressed up for my childhood birthday parties, made us all make Christmas tapes every year, and was a man who preferred the company of his family almost exclusively to any other. I loved him very much.
Dr. Thomas (Zoot) C. Roach, Medical Doctor, Trumpet Player and Raconteur, Dies at 84 in Asheville NC
Dr. Thomas Roach died on June, 2012 , at his home in Asheville, NC. The apparent cause was acute renal failure. Dr. Roach followed his beloved wife, Joan Dehaven Roach, 81, into the great unknown five scant months after her death from lung cancer on December 21, 2011, also in Asheville.
Dr. Roach was born in 1928 in Lexington, KY. He was a music lover, an art collector, a voracious reader, a loyal Saints and LSU football fan, and a wonderful husband, father, grandfather and friend. Zoot loved people, and he loved to find out what made them tick. He spent his time telling and collecting stories, and touched the lives of everyone he met through his wit and humor. Dr. Roach was not a man people forgot once they met him. A subscriber to the Skeptical Enquirer, he was a critical thinker, a lifelong Democrat, and a big fan of Dancing with the Stars and American Idol. He liked to see people attain their dreams.
He attended Paducah, Kentucky high school, Transylvania College and University of Louisville Medical School, where the Paducah High Valedictorian once joked that his fellow students “quickly taught him how smart smart could be.” He always said that finding out he wasn’t the smartest person around was a big character builder and quite a shock to a small town boy. Zoot was a loyal and giving friend, and retained friendships from throughout his life. A popular student at Paducah high school, where he was the handsome head cheerleader and the “Sweetheart of Sigma Chi,” he edited the most creative school newspaper Paducah had ever seen. For a time he flirted with the idea of becoming a journalist, until, while working a summer internship, long talks with the newspaper editor convinced him that becoming a doctor was his destiny.
When he was 27 years old, while on a date with a nursing student, he met his date’s roommate, whom he thought resembled the French film star Lesley Carone. Thunderstruck, he sought out the young woman about whom he said, “she had so much sparkle and personality I knew I had to date her.” Soon, after some finagling, he had nailed down a date with Joan Dehaven. She described it, always with stars in her eyes, as the best first date of her life. They got married in a little rose covered church soon after. They had found each other and rarely left each other’s side for the rest of the marriage.
Joan and Tom were well suited for each other. He was disorganized, she knew where he dropped everything. He never paid a bill in his life, she kept the family finances in order. They had the same sense of humor. The agreed on politics, (liberal democrats,) and religion, (no thank you.) She was a dedicated mother who insisted on family dinners. They were soul mates, dedicated arguers, lifelong learners, pretty hip for people in their 80s, and described themselves as deeply, deeply happy.
After teaching herself to cook, (they ate pancakes every night for two years at the beginning of their marriage) she served up his favorite meal of pot roast every Sunday afternoon. Five weeks before she died on December 21, 2011, she served him her last pot roast, which he claimed was just as good as the first one she put on the table that first time over 50 years earlier.
Tom completed a stint in the Air Force as a doctor, and was given the rank of Major because of his status as an M.D. Not really the military type, he loved to tell how a young private pulled him into the bathroom the first day of his duty and rearranged his uniform so that he wouldn’t embarrass himself. Once he was out of the Air Force, the family was ready to move and Tom chose New Orleans as the place to raise his family and practice medicine. He was drawn by the food, the friendly people and of course, the fabulous jazz. He became a popular Internal Medicine Specialist in Metairie, LA. After working at Brown-McCarty Clinic, he opened his own practice on Veterans Highway.
His practice grew quickly, though he was never on time for a single appointment. Loyal patients sat quietly in the crowded waiting room to experience “The Roach Approach” to hypoglycemia, be treated for common ailments, or just tell him their troubles and ask for advice. After years as an internal medicine specialist, he worked at The State Mental Hospital in Mandeville Louisiana, and moved to Covington. He lived in Louisiana for 40 years, and never missed a chance to join “second liners” dancing with umbrellas at a parade. He loved Mardi Gras and was a member of the Mid City Carnival Organization and paraded in Bacchus for two seasons. At parades, anxiously waiting friends knew his float was approaching by the amazing amount of beads and trinkets flying off the float as it came down the street.
A natural jokester and extrovert, he loved to sing and dance, and took any opportunity to perform. He enjoyed making Jazz mix tapes and sending them to his friends, along with his commentary. He and his wife decorated their Metairie home for Halloween long before the needed items were readily available. Each year he spent an hour on the balcony of his home dressed as a ghost, refusing to move, while neighborhood children threw candy at him to “see if he was real.” He stopped this practice for good after a little boy bonked him on the head with a candy apple one year, causing him to go inside in a huff.
He was a man of many interests and hobbies. A gifted tennis player, he turned down a tennis scholarship in order to attend medical school at his preferred University. He owned a 26 foot sailboat and a houseboat, which he housed at the New Orleans marina for several years. A music lover, he also played the tuba in the marching band in high school. His family fondly remembers his Flamenco guitar period, and endured his late in life attempt to become a jazz trumpet player. He had never given up on his desire to master the trumpet. To learn more about his instrument, he became the oldest camper at a highly reputable band camp for young musicians, and traveled by himself to each year to proudly take his place among students as young as eight years old. One of his greatest regrets was that age robbed him of the opportunity to continue attending band camp. He also spent many days traveling the Southeast with wife Joan and daughter Lisa to visit Southern Outsider Folk artists such as Howard Finster, Mose Tolliver, Archie Byron and Lonnie Holley to collect their art, hear their stories, and tell them his. He was proud to become friends with sculptor Archie Byron, with whom he agreed, “You should kiss your wife 100 times a day.”
In their early 40’s Tom and Joan became interested in yoga, and Joan, (a natural teacher) quickly became a respected instructor. They converted an old bungalow into the “Yoga House,” where students could study Hatha yoga with Joan. Tom, who had switched to psychiatry by this time, had a small office in the house, and they spent many years traveling the world and country to participate in workshops. Tom was proud to finally master a full shoulder stand, even though, as he said, “I’ll always be as stiff as a board.”
Joan and Tom moved from Covington, LA to Reading, PA after Hurricane Katrina. “We’re just too old to evacuate any more,” said Tom. They lived in Reading five years, choosing the town because their daughter, Lisa, son-in-law George Maddox and only grandchild, Lily Caroline, lived there. After George was killed in a work related plane crash in 2009, the family decided to move to George’s childhood homeplace in Asheville, NC, where they built a family compound, dubbed Paradise House. Daughters Lisa Roach Maddox, Nancy Roach, granddaughter Sara Byrd, and granddaughter Lily Maddox shared the compound with Tom and Joan, along with Lisa’s mother-in-law, Shirley Maddox and Tom’s devoted caregiver Candi Riddle, whom he loved like a daughter.
Less than two miles from the Blue Ridge Parkway, with a beautiful view of the mountains, they proceeded to plant hundreds of flowers, a beautiful rose garden, and acquired two mini horses, two mini donkeys, seven dogs and two rabbits. A giant oak tree grew right outside Joan and Tom’s window and Tom spent many hours on the porch in the shade of that tree, watching the animals and listening to music, ceiling fan drifting slowly over his head. The much longed for life of leisure and togetherness had arrived, and Tom and Joan were making the most of their time.
One day just five months after the move, Joan went to the hospital complaining of pain and a back X-Ray revealed Stage Four lung cancer metastasized to the spine. “Get your dad on the phone and stay with him,” she said, and we sat with him while the doctor explained that she had incurable cancer. An impossibly quick five weeks later, Joan was gone. Tom was crushed. He bravely announced that he would beat the odds of longtime spouses dying within a year of each other. After a few weeks of spending the better part of the day in his room hanging out with his beloved Maltese dogs and listening to Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn, he emerged from his room and made an effort to engage more fully with the family. But his heart just wasn’t in it. He missed Joan, whom he attempted to kiss 100 times every day of their marriage and still called beautiful up until the day she died.
He made it six months without his wife and best friend.
Tom and Joan are deeply missed by their children, Laura Roach Dragon of Kenner, LA, Lisa Roach Maddox and Nancy Roach of Asheville, NC, his granddaughters Lily Maddox and Sara Byrd, and his caretaker and best friend, Candi Riddle of Burnsville, NC. Our family will miss his joy de vivre, his wisecracks, his tricks, his singing and most of all his dedicated love. He will be remembered as the man who made his ten year old granddaughter laugh until she squeaked, loved sardines, was a big fan of hide and seek, and the guy who made every holiday and birthday just that much more special.
Tom is preceded in death by his mother Mabel Jones Roach, and father Dudley Snuffer Roach, his mother-in-law Bessie Dee DeHaven, and his son in law, George Maddox. The day before his death, after staring at the ceiling for many hours, Tom’s eyes began to move and he began to whisper. Daughters Lisa and Nancy, granddaughter Sara, and friend Candi Riddle were at his side. The windows were open, and as a breeze blew through the room he murmured that he “saw” Joan and blew two quick kisses. For half an hour or longer he continued to whisper and comment on long lost loves such as his Maltese Rocky, his mother, and others. He then lapsed into a non-responsive state and died the next day with his family around him.
Thomas Roach was a sensitive and special individual who enriched the lives of those around him every day. We will miss him always. His ashes, mixed with Joan’s, reside in the rose garden outside their window. A marker will read, “Step softly, love lies sleeping here.”
To all who knew and loved Tom and Joan, please spend a moment thinking of them and their contribution to our world.
To contact the family email firstname.lastname@example.org.