Tom was an amazingly well rounded mycologist (perhaps because he taught classes in every aspect of mycology at the University of Wisconsin LaCrosse), and a talented and generous sharer of knowledge. He visited the BMC for an extended weekend some years back and managed to give us five presentations, including lectures, a workshop and a walk, despite his health problems. Despite those problems, many of us thought (hoped) he would last forever. He didn’t; he died on November 28th.
Much of the time Tom had blue hair, and all of the time he was extensively (and mycologically) tattooed. He looked like a cross between an elf and a friendly extra-terrestrial. But no one — no matter how stern and conservative — could spend time with Tom without coming not just to like and respect him, but to have formed some sort of personal bond with him. I’m not sure I’ve ever met anyone with Tom’s mix of sweetness and calm.
Tom had extraordinarily bad luck. The radiation that treated an early cancer damaged his heart so that he required a transplant. The transplant meant that he was on immune suppressants for life. His foot was attacked by antibiotic resistant “flesh-eating” bacteria. It required extensive surgery and was never normal. Although he never let it keep him from traveling, talking and teaching, his apparently limitless energy came at a cost. But after giving our club a talk about his heart transplant (to encourage us all to become organ donors), Tom turned to me and said, “I’ve had such a lucky life.”
Heart recipients don’t have a normal life span. We’re glad we had Tom for the 63 years that he lasted. But there are so many of us who would have liked more.
~~~ Messages for Tom ~~~
We have lost a wonderful and unique person. I remember Tom was at a Boston Mycological Club walk in 2013 when a young woman approached him and said that she, too, was a heart transplant recipient (imagine that!). She had come to meet him and to ask him, as a fellow immuno-compromised person, if he was concerned about the risks of plunging through the woods with the dangers of ticks, etc., and of eating mushrooms. He was so thrilled to meet her. Everyone could see that they had a special connection. He told her that she could do whatever she wanted to in her life just as he had always done.
– Ellen Penso
I remember meeting Tom Volk at a Mycological Society of America meeting when I was a graduate student. He was so kind and gentle and welcoming to students. He took the time to engage with us as colleagues, and was genuinely interested in our work and our own experiences with fungi. He always made me feel like I was a person who could contribute to our understanding of fungi, and was a great advocate for science among the public. When I think of him, I remember strolling around with him after a meeting and admiring surprise lilies, and I remember his bright face as he discussed his Fungus of the Month project.