Thomas Edward Blackburn — better known to most long-time readers of the Palm Beach Post as retired columnist and editorial writer Tom Blackburn — stopped breathing just after midnight on January 2, 2021.
Saint Peter no doubt awoke as Tom knocked on the pearly gates, his baritone voice barking out something maybe resembling Gloria in excelsis Deo (if we’re being generous). Perhaps you dreamed you were hearing the angels singing a bit off key in the wee hours of the morning on January 2nd? Now you know the cause of the cacophony.
The man who put the liberal in “the liberal news media” re-read the prison writings of Father Alfred Delp just before he passed, having been reminded of those writings by Joe Biden’s Christmas address on December 22, 2020. Tom revisited those meditations because breathing was a common theme throughout Fr. Delp’s writing. You see, because of the utter indescribable incompetence of certain political leaders, an 86 year-old who only ever left the house (masked) to grocery shop during senior hours, visit doctors, and to get books from the library (because there was no room left in the house to store more books) — somehow nevertheless contracted Covid-19.
He wouldn’t recommend it.
Fr. Delp was imprisoned by the Nazis in 1944 for daring to envision a Christian community rising up after the demise of Nazism in a time when even thinking about the defeat of Nazism was a crime. The Jesuit Priest had metaphorical trouble breathing because the walls seemed to close in on him as he awaited his execution.
For Tom, his lungs literally closed in on him as he fought Covid-19, and then double pneumonia. Tom left a bookmark in page 60-61 of The Prison Meditations of Father Delp, at the passage reading, “To breathe again. To be honest I too long to be able to breathe again, to be relieved of my troubles.” While Tom’s corporal existence increasingly had difficulty breathing, his soul, liberated from his body, took its first deep breath.
Tom grew up in Evanston, IL, a fan of the Cubs and World War II airplanes. His passion for history, philosophy, poetry, music, live theater, bird watching and reading about all of those things and learning about everything stayed with him until the very end.
Perhaps in death, he will finally find perfect pitch. And, like Biden explained, “Delp believed, at first, we are shaken to our depths, and then we're ready for a season of hope.” May we all soon find the peace and serenity Tom now has and turn to a new season of hope.
He is survived by his wife of 64 years, Marilyn, his children Lise (n/k/a Sister Elizabeth Ann), Christopher (& Sally), Monica (& Glenn Aust), Michael (& Esther Aronson), Stephen (& Audrey Cho); his grandchildren Michele (& Nate Mammarella),, Elliott, Erika, Caroline (& Monte Driscoll), Katie, Emily, Jennifer, Aron; and his great-grand children Addisyn, Peyton, Carter, Essie, and Cohan.
An intimate yet socially-distanced visitation will be held and live-streamed from the Tillman Funeral Home, 2170 S Military Trail, West Palm Beach, FL 33415 from 10 a.m. to 12 noon, followed by a 12:30 pm funeral mass at Holy Name of Jesus Church on Tuesday, January 5, 2021. In lieu of flowers, please consider making a donation in his name to either his alma mater, Marquette University, P.O. Box 1881, Milwaukee, WI 53201 or the St. Lawrence Seminary, 301 Church Street, Mt. Calvary, WI 53057.