Words by his daughter: Jessica
Thomas William Radcliffe, born November 1, 1933, in Morehead, Minnesota, died early in the morning on November 19, 2018. Born in the middle of the Great Depression, Tom’s childhood was spent on a small farm outside Fargo, North Dakota. His mother and father, Ima and Jay Radcliffe, provided for Tom and his brother, Jim, with income from a few dairy cows, chickens, and small crops. Tom learned early on to support his mother as she worked tirelessly to raise her sons. As Tom put it, “My brother, Jim, and I both knew that Mother’s life was hard enough, and we could not add to that difficulty.”
Tom’s childhood was also molded by the teachers he encountered: teachers who introduced him to classical music and fostered a passion for reading. He learned wood working and furniture building in his high school wood shop, and the skills developed there carried through his entire life, with tables and beds and shelves and stools and benches built for so many people. Tom developed his craft deep into his 70’s, always game for a new furniture plan and a trip to Crosscut Hardwoods. The zenith of his work with wood came when he built the Radcliffe family home six miles up Elk River. Even today, upon entering the house, people have said it is like walking into one of Tom’s pieces of furniture.
Tom attended North Dakota State University, paying his way through college caddying at the local country club. (When he was not on the clock at the course, he developed a golf game of his own that consistently frustrated him with its lack of majesty. In his later years, after retirement, he focused on improving his game with a dedication to daily practice. He found that by tripling his effort he was able to make absolutely no change to his over-all performance. So he took up flower photography instead.) Starting college he believed he would get a degree in mathematics. But college level calculus created some clarity on this matter, and, at the same time, he fell in love with history. Tom was a man who pursued many activities with great passion and intellectual fervor. History was one of his greatest life-long passions, and he began reading history books at age 20 and didn’t stop until he became too sick to concentrate properly at about age 82. This man knew so much about the story of humankind. He put this wisdom to great use by becoming a high school history teacher.
But to understand how he became a high school history teacher, you have to understand how he fell in love with theater and with Clara Jane Schleef. In high school and later in college, Tom became enthralled by theater. As an actor and a director, Tom learned to project his voice to a legendary volume, memorized and forgot thousands of lines of dialogue (sometimes all on opening night), and gave life to Oscar Wilde and Noel Coward and George Bernard Shaw. He met his first wife, Clara, doing summer-stock theater in Medora, South Dakota. They married, and Clara convinced him to move to Buffalo, New York, to attend graduate school at University of New York Buffalo. Tom, having spent a formative two weeks in the Pacific Northwest during his time in the army, convinced Clara to move to Port Orford, Oregon, when he had finished his master’s degree. There he began his life’s professional work, teaching history, government, and algebra at Pacific High School. He taught for 31 years with notable teaching practices like “you have to teach me something in your essay to get an A” and a four corners defense for students who couldn’t stop chatting during class. At the end of his teaching career, he confessed he was done with teaching about the Louisiana Purchase but that he still got up every morning excited to see what those teenagers would do today. He adored teenagers, which was good because he had 7 children.
Tom was a demanding, funny, patient (except for when you left his tools out in the rain or didn’t bring back his scissors or interrupted him when he was already frustrated), eccentric father. He raised three children on Elk River. He ran the clock at basketball games, directed and acted in community theater plays, coached the golf team, served on the bargaining unit for the teachers of District 2C-J, ran the high school library, taught hundreds of Curry County kids about the Civil War, the US Constitution, the historic roots of the English language and then how to use the modern version to write a decent two page essay. He policed the hallways of Pacific High School with a mixture of instilled fear and humor.
When his marriage to Clara Jane ended, he struggled but did not give up. And found the third part of his life, and best part of his life, with Lynne Meyer Leikem. He found her at a teacher’s meeting. They married in 1991, and Tom moved to Milwaukie Oregon and became part of Lynne’s big, beautiful family. In retirement, Tom helped Lynne with her four children, cooking dinners, running errands, and attending soccer games. As this batch of children grew up, he attended birthday parties, graduations, and weddings; helped with grandchildren; and built furniture for this constantly growing extended family. He had the chance to nurture and connect with all of his grandchildren, becoming the family’s beloved Papa Whiskers. From bread baking to golf to hiking to reading to photography to stamp collecting, he enriched all thirteen grandchildren with his wisdom and his humor. And he modelled how to love and be loved by his own perfect match in marriage, Lynne Charlene.
Tom has left the best legacy, with years of teaching and a very big family surrounding him with respect and love. He is survived by his wife, Lynne Radcliffe; his children Eli, Jessica (Tony), Nathan (Melissa); and by his step children Brad (Anne), David (Angela), Karen (Lance), and Kate. He is also survived by his grandchildren Hannah, Delaney, Blake, Matthew, Mason, Mia, Josie, Bode, Millie, Tristan, Sidda, Lana, and Eva Rose.
A memorial service will be held on Friday, January 4, 2019, from 3:00 to 5:00 PM, at the Milwaukie Center, 5440 SE Kellogg Creek Drive, Milwaukie Oregon. The family asks that in lieu of flowers, contributions be made to the Port Orford Library, 1421 Oregon Street PO Box 130, Port Orford OR 97465 or to Bristol Hospice, 10365 SE Sunnyside Road, Ste 340 Clackamas, OR 97015.