Thomas J. Fleming, 30; instinct for helping led him to education
Thomas J. Fleming was quiet at first, but once he knew you, he was a friend for life.
Friends were so important to Tom that he would call just to talk about the happenings in another friend's life. He was the one who kept people in touch, and he was always there to offer help.
His mother and others who knew him say that's probably why Tom wanted to work with teenagers, as a physical-education teacher and coach.
A 1990 graduate of Auburn (Mass.) High School, Tom, 30, had been substitute-teaching for about two years at his alma mater, waiting for a position to open as he gained experience. He had also applied for a softball coaching position.
"He was one of those guys who loved to be around the kids," said Bill Garneau, Auburn High's athletic director. "We'd sit down after class and talk. He was always asking questions."
Garneau had also known Tom as a student. In those days, Tom stood out, his red hair flowing down past his shoulders. It stayed that way until his mid-20s, when he cut it short.
"I made suggestions" about shorter hair, said his mother, Judith Fleming. "It wasn't until one day that he decided. . . . He pulled in the driveway one day -- I didn't even recognize who it was."
Maggie Dinsdale, a friend from Auburn High, said Tom cut his hair just before her wedding. Tom was there to congratulate the newlyweds, and he was there again when Maggie and her husband had a baby daughter. The couple didn't own a nice camera, so Tom insisted they borrow his to capture their daughter's start in life.
He was there again when Maggie had a car accident in the parking lot at Sears, where they both worked for a time.
"He was the first person out in the parking lot seeing if I was OK," she said. "The guy was just yelling and screaming at me, and Tom said 'Back off -- it's not her fault.' "
Maggie and another close high school friend, Todd Shaw, said they prayed after hearing of the fire at The Station, hoping Tom hadn't gone.
Tom loved '80s music. He and Todd had attended about a hundred shows together, Todd estimates. They would check out the bands, and they would look up at the ceilings of the clubs to check out the sprinkler equipment -- the kind that might have saved lives at The Station. Tom had worked for a time with Todd and his father, who own the RC Shaw Sprinkler Co., in Worcester.
At home, Tom was more quiet, his mother said. The youngest of three children, he lived in Auburn until last year, when he moved to Worcester. His parents, longtime Auburn residents, moved to Florida last summer. They had a private service the week after his death.
"It gets a little easier each day," his mother said. "And then I see a picture of him . . . "
-- Randal Edgar