Thomas David Pafford ’84

Father. Husband. Brother. Son. Cyclist. Bassist. Uncle. Administrator. Friend.

Thomas Pafford, son of Tom and Barbara Pafford of Huntington, West Virginia, and longtime resident of Durham, North Carolina, was, above all, a Gentle Man.

Thomas moved slowly and deliberately in the world, and yet in his 56 years, managed to cover a lot of ground, and deeply touch many, many people across all walks of life.  He had a rare and carefully-developed capacity for creating space for people around him to just be themselves, and he leaves behind a large community of people who love and miss him.

An English major at Davidson College, Thomas was known by his friends to be a young man of considerable “existential angst,” and he continued both his love of grappling with great questions and his love of grappling with great literature throughout his life.  Moby Dick was his favorite novel, but his most constant source of reading material was the Book of Psalms, and many of his friends were exhorted to spend time with those same pages.

After several years experimenting with various jobs and careers, Thomas eventually found his niche as a Program Coordinator and Manager in the Anesthesiology Departments of Duke and the University of Miami, and — both in his work, as well as the rest of his life —  stood firmly and visibly for the creation of community across all potential dividing lines: race, gender, class, age, education.  Even the most casual glimpse of the friends and communities that gathered around him would show his success at forming and sustaining relationships that defied such potential divisions, and he leaves behind a community of colleagues who miss both his talents and his heart.

While working at Duke, Thomas met and fell in love with his life partner, Laura Collins, and their friendship and marriage transformed him.  Together they danced, camped, served as core community and committee members of their church, and — as foster parents  — dedicated themselves to providing a home to those who otherwise had none. They eventually wholeheartedly adopted four children: Robert, Liam, Lassha and Kieran, and inspired all who knew them with their simple, every-day brand of loving and living.

Thomas threw himself unreservedly into play with his children, a trait that was also enjoyed by his nieces, Sara and Alyssa — daughters of his sister Kathy — and all the other children (of all ages) who had the pleasure of knowing him.  He threw himself into other endeavors as well, always with an irresistible sense of delight and curiosity.  Both in Durham and in Miami — where the family lived for five years — Thomas dedicated himself to cycling teams, sharing in the mutual drive to support each other and push each other’s physical limits while playing full out on the long (and often hilly) roads with their cycles.  He was also a beloved local musician, playing with friends and worship community bands, singalongs, Boy Scout campfires, and most notably the Chapel Hill band Other Bright Colors in the late 1980s. All who heard him or played with him were clear that Bob Dylan was his most central influence.

Thomas passed away on October 26th, nine months after lung cancer was detected, but his heart, dedication and gentle spirit live on.