Tom Oosterhoudt passed away on April 1
A year and a half ago, I sat in Tom Oosterhoudt’s home office, surrounded by 200 framed pictures of him and celebrities gracing the walls — super models, political powerhouses, actors, singers, television hosts. (If you were famous and you came to Key West, Tom had a picture of you and him hanging on his walls.)
On this particular day, we sat there on a Tuesday night, Conch Color deadline night, before he went to Tampa the next day for his fourth surgery. His editorial read like an obituary, explaining once again his surgeries, and thanking all he loved. I wouldn’t let him print it in the paper, because he was a fighter, his pain meds were strong, and I knew he was coming back. The obit, I slid in my back pocket, and promised that if he didn’t come back, I would put it in Conch Color for him.
Luckily, after 12 hours of surgery and weeks of recovery in Tampa, he was back at his Casa Antigua home. I visited a few times a week to tell him about all the people wishing him well around town. Never once was he without a hat on his head, or his hair perfectly in place. He would joke about how cute his doctor was, or how bad Christopher Walken was in “Peter Pan Live.” When he was feeling well enough, I would bring my girls and they’d sit at the bottom of Uncle Tom’s bed telling him stories of being my sidekick. He’d known Summer, my eight-year-old, since she was in diapers in a play yard in his office.
He was in a lot of pain, but he was a trooper. After leaving Conch Color, I would still receive my weekly late night calls after “Dancing With Stars,” or a random “butt-dial” while he’d be at lunch at his favorite place, Camille’s.
The text came through April 1 at 9 a.m., I thought for sure someone was playing a horrible April Fool’s joke on Key West, but it wasn’t a joke. Tom died at Broward Medical Center that morning. When I told Summer, she gave me a long hug with tears in her eyes. Half the pictures in her baby book are cut from the pages of Conch Color.
Tom was a true Key West champion of the arts, having the first symphony performance in Key West in his garage years ago — the same garage where he hosted his open-invite holiday party for years. The Colorful Commish embodied acceptance in the community, making sure the party was inclusive of everyone. He received awards and thanks from almost every non-profit in town for covering their events.
My favorite memory of him was how he loved to tell people he had the biggest rod in Key West — his spine supported by a titanium pole. He’d always receive a giggle over that, and he will always be remembered as making Key West a lot more colorful. His service will be held Saturday, April 9 at 11 a.m. at St. Mary’s. The cathedral will be picture-perfectly packed with all the lives he’s touched.
— Kristen Livengood is a Marathon High School and USF grad, mom of two beautiful little girls, and wife to some cute guy she met in a bar. She enjoys being a social busy bee, red wine, running (very, very slowly), and spearfishing.