On Friday The Skating Club of Boston hosted Celebrating an Icon about “the life and extraordinary achievements” of Thomas J. McGinnis. Indeed, it was a night to remember.
When my friend, business partner and mentor passed away in July, many of us in the skating world and beyond were mourning in our own way. While I knew Tom’s life was filled with decades of accomplishments, he was relatively humble in what he achieved for himself while steadfastly promoting others. As the consummate coach, Tom was always imparting his knowledge and insight to those of us in his world.
Shortly after the invitation to attend the event, I was asked to announce and commentate. Of course, I was happy to oblige. I heard during the weeks leading up to the event who would be attending and generally what the evening would entail. There was going to be an on-ice tribute followed by a video presentation.
When I was practicing the script during the day, it was impossible to not be filled with emotion. I took a break and went into some of my archives and looked at old issues of the magazine that we used to publish. Seeing Tom’s name on the masthead and looking at select pictures of us at events I remember stopping to reflect on what those years were like. Tom loved the glamour of the sport, the stars that it created. Throughout our years of publication, I always strived to create a sense of glamour, particularly with the events we produced. He loved the reception we had in New York City when the magazine named The 25 Most Influential Names in Figure Skating.
But it was Friday night that brought us all home to celebrate Tom’s life and to share our memories. The skating world is like a family of many relatives, close and distant. But Friday marked a family reunion, one that Tom would have loved.
I know it was hard for many of us to keep our emotions in check on Friday. For me, there was a moment during the commentary when I almost lost it. The final performance was by coach Stephanie Cooke who was once a student of Tom’s. Before her performance she asked that I read her tribute to Tom. I didn’t make eye contact with her until the passage, “I hope to make him very proud.” When we looked at each other the emotion of the moment caught us both. I said to myself OMG she has to skate and I need to talk…get it together! I swear in that moment, I heard Tom say “breathe.” Of course I took his direction!
After the on-ice tribute we retreated upstairs to a video presentation (click this link to watch on YouTube). After the video many offered their personal stories of Tom throughout the years. They were all different, interesting and came from the heart. They painted a picture of someone who was larger than life. We were all proud to be part of his canvas.
The takeaway from the evening was obvious. All of us are now imparting Tom’s coaching and words of wisdom to others, as it should be. Tom left this world a better place, and we are all better off for knowing him.
My thanks to The Skating Club of Boston for producing Celebrating an Icon.
Thomas J. McGinnis
On Sunday my friend and business partner Thomas J. McGinnis passed away after a long illness. For so many that knew him he was our North Star. A light that guided us throughout our careers.
Back in 1993 Tommy took a chance and believed in my vision for an international newsmagazine for the sport and art of figure skating. It wasn’t just his financial support that breathed life into this venture, it was the stature he commanded in figure skating and the numerous personalities and “stars” he introduced me to.
I’ll still never forget that day. Here I was at a skating conference to give a presentation on what I planned to do. No sooner was it over when Tommy came up to me and said “Do you need an investor?” As a fledgling entrepreneur, I certainly did! Of course I knew who Tommy was. You couldn’t be involved in skating without knowing the name. Simply, his was a name that yielded grace, style and importance.
While so many judged my ability to pull off this venture, Tommy never questioned it. He used to tell me he knew a star when he saw one. I didn’t quite know what he meant at the time, but it didn’t take long for the magic that was Tom’s coaching on and off the ice to have its effect on me. He was filled with wonderful witticisms. One of the earliest bits of advice he gave me was, “Be available, but not too available.”
Over the ensuing years, and with my other business partner Lois Elfman, we built a multi-million dollar media company that eventually saw the title available in over 60 countries. For years it was the world’s largest for the sport. Indeed, it was a venture we were all proud of. I fondly remember the days when Tom would visit the office or call. No matter who I was on the phone with, they were quickly placed on hold. This was Tommy calling and I was available!
Sadly, in 2004, we lost the company in a brutal hostile takeover from a predator investor who bought up our securities and foreclosed. In one day, a decade plus enterprise was over. Over 20 of us lost our jobs. Worse, Tommy lost his investment. My God, how do I make that call? What do I say to this man who gave so much? Who believed in me?
When I made the call his first response was, “How are you?” How was I? How was I. With the emotional turmoil that Lois and I went through the months preceding, someone asked how we were. That was the type of person Tommy was. He was a coach. He knew that not every performance ended in a gold medal. He knew there were just as many difficult days as there were great ones. He knew the peaks and valleys of life. He imparted all this knowledge onto his students.
After the company, Tom and I were frequently in touch as friends. There were so many things we would joke about. I always wondered how old Tommy was. His response was as accurate as it was witty, “I’m older than you and younger than Dick Button.” OK! As for Dick Button, it was Tommy who introduced me to him at Skates of Gold in 1993. Tommy knew everyone!
Very few of us know the impact someone has had on us until an end is coming. Tommy’s investment bought me an education in the real world. I’ve often remarked that I wouldn’t have been able to produce a feature film had I not had the experience of running a company.
Over the last few days I’ve been looking at Tommy’s emails to me. I can’t help think of the kindness and generosity this man imparted to me and so many others. Never a judgement, but a lesson. Never a criticism, but encouragement. Let’s say I’ve shared many the tear. To be frank, he was the father figure I looked up to and admired. Someone who I could talk to and not be afraid.
Tommy’s words of wisdom and support continued when I put Justice Is Mind into production. One of his emails read, “Mark, how wonderful. Best wishes for success” and on one of our screenings, “Mark, well done! Congratulations and wishing you the best in success.” Making a feature film is not easy by a long shot, but knowing that Tommy was there wishing for the best was just another element that made that project go in the positive direction that it did.
When I announced my return to figure skating with Serpentine in 2016, Tommy wanted to be involved. He must have figured out that I do my best writing in the morning when he once responded, “You are an early riser. I thought the stars appeared only at night?” It was wonderful to add his name as an Executive Producer. It was like we had come full circle in our work together. When the Associated Press syndicated a story about Serpentine Tommy’s response was quick, “A hot property.”
In April I brought him a copy of Serpentine. I knew his health was failing. But he wanted to stay engaged. It was hard seeing a man so full of life slowing slipping from this world. There were many things we talked about. I left that day feeling sad. Waving goodbye to a friend I wasn’t sure I would see again.
A few days passed and an email came in from him, “Enjoyed Serpentine very much. T.” That email meant the world to me. A couple of emails after Tommy told me about his devastating health news while also promoting a friend who was appointed to the presidency of the Julliard School. That was Tommy, always thinking of and promoting others. Our last email exchange was when I was updating him on some plans for Serpentine. His response “Great. Tom. XXX”
I did see Tommy about two weeks ago when he was in hospice. I thanked him again for our friendship and for believing in me. I held his hand and told him not to worry about anything.
While Tommy loved to be around stars and create them, indeed he was The Star. The rest of us simply orbited around him. For those of us that were fortunate to come into his orbit, we were his students whether we realized it or not. From on ice to off, Tommy had a knack for discovering and nurturing talent. It was a rare gift. To turn a phrase from Auntie Mame, he invited us to his banquet so we never starved.
I will miss my mentor and friend. A voice in my life is now gone. But with Tommy’s performance and tutelage in this world transferred to another, perhaps it’s time we score his life while he was with us.