Tom Turrentine Obituary (1954 – 2020) | #teacher | #children | #kids

Tom Turrentine
February 17, 1954 – June 2, 2020
Thomas Spencer Turrentine was born February 17, 1954 at O’Connor Hospital in San Jose, California. He died June 2, 2020, 1.4 miles past the Sand Point Overlook in Nisene Marks State Park, due to an unforeseen coronary event while on a bike ride. He had been a resident of Santa Cruz County for 31 years.
Tommy (as he was known by his family) was the youngest of four. His father Howard was a dairy farmer before working for the Farmers Home Administration, a federal government agency that gave loans to small-scale farmers. The family moved to Los Gatos in 1952 after Howard got a promotion, but he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer shortly after the move and died when Tommy was two years old. Tommy’s mom Nadine went back to school, working by day in a cannery while getting her credentials to eventually become an elementary school teacher.
Tom (as he was known by most everyone else) had his first mountaineering experience on Clyde Minaret in the Sierra at age 14. Unroped in hiking boots, he and his guide got off-route and Tom took a 100 foot tumble while traversing a glacier with nothing but his bare fingers to plunge into the snow and slow himself down. He walked away from that experience with one thought only: When can I do that again?
In high school, Tom and his friend Mark Rodell roared around in Tom’s beat-up TR3 climbing anything and everything they could. They climbed sea stacks off the coast of Half Moon Bay before class at 8 am and every weekend took off for somewhere new. Kings Canyon, Pinnacles, and finally Yosemite Valley, which became Tom’s favorite place on Earth.
Tom was close to his mom Nadine, and later in life would attribute his unwavering belief in the strength, intelligence and tenacity of women to watching her become the sole provider for her four children while putting herself through school. And she could beat him at arm wrestling.
Nadine was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1970, and died shortly after Tom graduated from high school. He had received a full athletic scholarship to play soccer at Westmont College in Santa Barbara in 1972, but got the boot for bad grades after the first year. He moved to Santa Cruz, where he worked in a machine shop for a while. Later he got a job with Summit Expedition, a wilderness education program that took high-school students into the mountains. He was able to put his now-honed mountaineering skills to work, although during his first skills assessment exam, the ‘drowning victim’ he was supposed to rescue had to rescue him. He never was a strong swimmer. Sank like a stone.
He climbed El Capitan in the mid-70s with a stranger. They topped out after five nights with no water. He never did grow out of that habit of never bringing enough. Tom never summited again, but he never stopped dreaming of doing El Cap one more time. He and Sasha planned to climb it together in 2024, when he turned 70.
Tom went back to school, first to Cabrillo College, then UCSC, where he studied Anthropology. He traveled south to the Andes, and lived in a village outside of Huaraz, Peru during the fall of 1980 and winter of 1981. He was drawn to the hard-working and gentle Andean people, and enjoyed trying to understand their way of life. His thesis “The Politics of Language: The Structure of Linguistic Inequality in Peru” was completed in September 1982. The dedication reads
“I dedicate this thesis to the Andean people who have been silenced. May their language thunder in the ears of the oppressor.”
Tom had also spent a fair amount of his time in the Andes climbing, as was his wont. The majority of his mountain adventures were spent with Glenn Garland, who had become one of his favorite mountaineering partners, and would remain his closest friend to the end.
Tom had met Pat Lordan before, through mutual friends in Berkeley, but he was married at the time. There was an ease between them, a sort of unspoken understanding. Pat wore a hot pink jumpsuit that really caught Tom’s eye after his divorce but it was a year or two before they went on their first date: Pat kicked his butt on a long road bike ride, which he thoroughly enjoyed. It was all going well until Tom dropped her bike in a giant poison oak bush. He did not know, but she was very allergic.
Six months later, they were on “the longest phone call of my lifetime” (in Pat’s words) discussing her pregnancy. They decided to go for it, and after a tough preterm labor which left Pat on bedrest for three months, two became three. So entered Sasha, who would be their only child.
Sasha was born on July 9, 1987 at Alta Bates Hospital in Berkeley, California with a full head of hair. After two years in Oakland, they decided to relocate. Tom described an almost spiritual sensation—very rare for him, a self-proclaimed atheist and Man of Science— while walking in the Seabright neighborhood in Santa Cruz, and asked a couple walking past if they knew of anyone renting in the area. As it so happened, one of them was looking for tenants.
Tom was back in Santa Cruz again. He started working towards his PhD. At first, his work remained in the Andes, but with encouragement from mentors he pivoted to consumer behavior in the emerging electric vehicle market. Tom most enjoyed going to people’s homes and talking with them; he always grumbled about the writing part. He received his Doctorate in Anthropology in 1994 from UC Davis.
It was in the paper that Pat discovered 196 Seacliff Drive, which they did not know then would be their home together for the next 28 years. They sent Sasha into the house first, greeting the owners in her little white dress. They moved in, and with two mortgages and the help of friends, eventually bought it.
Tom continued to work for the Institute of Transportation Studies in Davis. He researched household automotive consumer trends and how that impacted fuel economy and thereby the environment, as well as electric and alternative fuel vehicles.
He also taught a few anthropology courses at UCSC’s Merrill College. He ran Classroom Connection—a volunteer project that brought students into classrooms to work as teacher’s aides. He was given the Faculty/Staff Award in 2006.
In 2007, Tom became the founding Director of the Plug-in Hybrid & Electric Vehicle (PG&EV) Center at UC Davis. He grew the team from three to almost 30 graduate students, staff and researchers in his 11 years as Director. Most of them became friends, with whom he schemed and racked up many a climbing and ski adventure.
Tom retired in 2018, his bucket list brimming with travel destinations and climbing trips. He and Sasha began by getting benighted on a peak in the Sierra. They summited Gannet Peak in the Wind River Range together, and traveled south to Mexico to do Orizaba, the third highest peak in North America, which would have been Tom’s second time to the summit if Sasha hadn’t gotten altitude sickness. He and Pat traveled to the Big Island on Hawaii—which they always loved visiting, walked through the ruins of Pompeii, drove through the American Southwest, and hiked under the magnificent Torres del Paine in Patagonia. He packed a lot in. But there was always more to see and more to do.
Tom was goofy, light-hearted, and he loved to make you laugh. He came to believe that ABBA was the “greatest rock band of all time”, and he frequently subjected his road trip partners to not just one but multiple playings of ‘Dancing Queen’ in the car. He was thoughtful, well-read, and ever the optimist. Tom was full of confidence, but it wasn’t only self-centered. He thought you could do it, too. His mother often said to him, “You are no better than anyone else, and no one is any better than you.” He believed that to be true.
He is survived by his wife, Pat, their daughter Sasha, and two brothers and sister, Ralph, Jim, and Betty.
Due to the pandemic, a celebration of Tom’s life has not yet been planned, but it will be full of laughter and dancing and tequila, and an invitation will be open to anyone and everyone who knew and loved him.View the online memorial for Tom Turrentine

Published in Santa Cruz Sentinel on Nov. 25, 2020.

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