May 05, 1936 - March 29, 2022
Beloved father, grandpa, brother and friend, Thomas Joseph Birong, passed away at the age of 85 in Phoenix Arizona on March 29th 2022. He was a kind, curious, and loving family man who will be forever cherished in our hearts and memories.
He was born in Evanston, Illinois on May 5, 1936 to Joseph and Bessie Birong. He was proceeded in death by Joseph and Bessie Birong (parents), Anne Birong (wife), Lara Birong (daughter), Joseph Birong Jr. (brother). Survived by Katie Johnson (daughter), Mike Johnson (son-in-law), Luke and Elliott Johnson (grandchildren), Roberta Happ (sister), Tony Birong (brother), Cathy Beckman (sister), and Mary Vodicka (sister).
Rather than chronical the major events in his life, I would like to pay tribute to his story by remembering the things that made him uniquely my dad.
He loved reminiscing about his adventures in the Navy --- tasting his first espresso in Spain because it was the only warm drink he could get his hands on, meeting the lovely people in New Zealand, battling the crazy drivers in Boston, sweating in his bunk in Cuba, toughing out big storms on a mine sweeper. His time spent in Antarctica was full of adventures that could fill a book --- flying 10 meters above the ice of Antarctica with a crazy pilot in search of a research tent in zero visibility, racing across the ice on a makeshift toboggan (that did not end without injury), tickling curious Adele penguins' bellies, spending months in darkness, feeling like you would never feel warm again, shoveling snow for water, maintaining the researcher's communications equipment, making wonderful friends, trading Navy issue whiskey for steaks, having the adventure of a lifetime...
He loved telling stories of his younger days in Illinois --- standing on the runners of his dad's car as he drove it down the driveway, riding the train into Chicago at age 12 to visit the Museum of Science and Industry with his best friend, Fred, ice skating on Grayslake, playing in the streets with neighborhood friends and family, listening to his teacher play ragtime, trick or treating for three days, looking at the beautiful ice crystals hanging from trees as the moon illuminated them with a mesmerizing glow, going to Illinois Tech and Loyola, enjoying the Chicago nightlife with Bernie, walking to get an ice cream with my mom in the snow, going to Grandma Jessies' for farmhand sized breakfasts with mom, digging his car out of the snow, meeting interesting new people at Hallicrafters, gazing at the harvest moon coming up between the trees, buying his Alpha, teaching my mom to drive his Alpha...
Thomas (aka, Tom, TJ, Beast, Boogie, Snort, Swine-us, Papa, Dad, and Grandpa...but never Tommy) had plenty of hobbies, interests and likes. If he didn't like something, he would simply say, "It's not my favorite.", or "It's very unusual." which usually would indicate he was not a fan. Here's some things that were always a hit with Beast---useful gadgets, green ice tea, being in nature, jazz (not all, but the good stuff), reading about the unexplained, rock hunting, good burgers, the Southwest, photography, offroading, Disneyland, sipping on an espresso, Flamenco music, stargazing, being with his Geese, hiking, Scotland, watching me play softball, camping, exploring with his siblings, working on his computer, going to the mall on Friday evenings, talking on the phone with friends and family, biscuits and gravy (Grandma Jessie's recipe), helping fix things, green chilis, learning about Native Americans, trains, dark chocolate, driving, cooking while listening to lively jazz, spending time with his family...
My Dad was always there for me and I tried to do the same for him. I loved him with all my heart. We had a special relationship. He told me with teary eyes on several occasions that when he laid eyes on me for the very first time it was almost indescribable. Yes, he was filled with joy and love---but, as he put it---it was like being reunited with an old friend. Like he knew me. I always thought that was cool. I hope he was right, and that we will be reunited again.
We will be celebrating his life and memory by spreading his ashes on the Sandia Mountains in Albuquerque, New Mexico where he will be reunited with my mom on a mountain he loved to hike with his family.
There are no events scheduled.