Tom Samson was a “beloved” teacher at Swansea Public School for the past eight years, remembered by colleagues as a gentleman and practical joker with an infectious smile.
Samson died following a cycling accident at the corner of Davenport Road and Lansdowne Avenue early Friday, Nov. 23. He was 35. He leaves behind his wife and two children, seven and almost five.
The Grade 2 teacher, “a caring and valued member” of the Swansea P.S. team, was an avid chess player and coach, said Principal Karen Ridley. “Many of his students will remember being soundly beaten by him,” she wrote in a letter to parents.
He coached the boys’ basketball team and led the Swansea Sharks to several victories.
“He will be remembered as a dedicated staff member, who over the years made so many strong connections with those he encountered,” Ridley said. “Tom will be missed greatly by our entire school community.”
A memorial, comprised of countless pictures, flowers and cards as well as a book of condolences, is set up in Samson’s honour in the front foyer of the school.
Ridley recalled her friend and colleague as a funny guy, who was quick to smile. A practical joker, he’d arrive in the school office with an “applause metre” and “laugh box,” she said.
“Our students and staff are understandably upset by what happened. Toronto District School Board staff has been at the school to offer support and counselling and will remain for as long as they are needed,” Ridley said.
The devoted husband and father had a knack for sharing his love of life with everyone he met – particularly his smile.
“Tom was the real deal: a gentleman, a joker, a thinker, an athlete, a conversationalist,” said colleague Christopher Higgins. “Sometimes he would just put a thought-provoking book or a CD in my box. He was very considerate that way. On Halloween, you had to see what he was wearing. He made bow ties cool. He had an infectious smile, took every chance to share a laugh and always had time for his friends. Tom was loved by all who knew him.”
Swansea P.S. council chair Karey Heard recalled Samson’s Halloween costume, too. He had the kids in stitches dressed up “Gangnam Style” as South Korean rap sensation PSY.
“He was just one of those lovely people. You’d see him at school and he always asked how you were because he was genuinely interested. He cared,” she said. “It’s such a loss for Swansea. He was the teacher you’d give the kids who needed extra attention to. We called him the ‘Kid Whisperer.’”
Teachers from Parkdale P.S. offered to take over classes at Swansea so its staff could attend the celebration of Samson’s life Tuesday at the Artscape Wychwood Barns. A private burial followed the public celebration.
“The school rented a bus because everyone wanted to go. The community has really come together. We’re all pitching in,” Heard said.
As many as 30 families have banded together to make and deliver food to Samson’s family.
Parkdale-High Park Councillor Sarah Doucette was a member of Swansea P.S.’s parent council when Samson came to the school. She recalled working on an outdoor seating project with Samson.
“Because he was a chess master, we put a chess rock in the kindergarten garden,” said Doucette, whose kids attended the Windermere Avenue school.
“He was very kind and caring; one of the few male kindergarten teachers Swansea has had,” she said. “He had a real rapport with students, particularly the rambunctious boys. He had a way of encouraging them to learn. He was loved by everyone.”
Samson was tall so people – literally – looked up to him in all ways, Doucette said.
“Swansea is absolutely in shock,” she said.
The Swansea School Council has set up a trust fund for the Samson family. The account is at the Bank of Montreal at Windermere Avenue and Bloor Street West. The transit No. is 0367, the account No. is 8980907.
Parents can also drop off cheques at the school office made payable to “SSC – Tom Samson Memorial Fund”.
To honour Tom’s love of reading and his dedication to helping young readers, the family is asking for donations to the Toronto Public Library Foundation. Visit www.torontopubliclibrary.ca/support-us/tpl-foundation