Fondly recalling Tom Gildersleeve Sr.

Recently, while presenting a Virginia continuing education class for the highly respected Gammon Well Co. in Providence Forge, Va., president Howard Gammon Sr. and myself were reminiscing about a deceased friend, Tom Gildersleeve Sr. from Virginia Beach, Va. Tom was the owner of T. E. Gildersleeve Pump and Well Co. Tom and I met in 1966 at the South Atlantic Well Drillers Jubilee (SAWDJ) in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and we were friends until he passed away several years ago.

Tom was a great businessman, a wealth of knowledge, and someone who was all work while at work. He was a different person and a barrel of laughs and fun at the SAWDJ. There he became my personal friend, a showman and entertainer.

One evening, he, his wife Betty, myself, my wife Bess and our two sons, Chris “Piglet” and Randall “Randy,” all went to dinner at Grandma’s Kitchen. It was crowded with people sitting on the porch, spilling onto the lawn, waiting for their names to be called. Tom was dressed in his impressive all-pale-yellow suit. Everyone was noticing him.

Tom said to me – not in a private conversation – “Porky, do you have your notebook?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Take a note! We need to get more seating on the lawn so that people waiting for their named to be called don’t get grass stains on their clothes. Oh, we need to get more lights in the palm trees.”

Then he said, “Let’s go inspect the parking lot.” I told Randy to go with him. Randy said, “I’m going to the car, dad.” Randy was a quiet kid who didn’t like to stand out in a crowd, but he went anyway. When they returned, Tom said, “We need to restripe the parking lot; people can’t see how to park.” Everyone was watching us with expressions of “Who are those people? They must be the owners.”

They would announce a name on the loud speaker for the group family. Tom said, “Every once in a while, we mumble someone’s name on the loud speaker. That way, those waiting won’t get impatient.” Just at that moment, our group was called. We entered, and the host said, “Your table is table 19.” Tom then said, “That’s fantastic; we always reserve table 19 for the very important people.” Of course, everyone was listening.

This is a buffet-style restaurant. While going through the line, Tom said to me, “We’ve done a lot of research and found these plates are the best size. If we supply large plates, people get more food than they eat. This size is best in that they usually get enough food; besides, they can go back for more. But many people don’t want to be seen going back for seconds.”

We collected our food, went to table 19, where the waitress said to Tom, “Don’t I recognize you?” Tom looked over at me, and said, “It’s unbelievable. It doesn’t matter where we go, someone will recognize us movie stars.”

As we were eating, Tom told the waitress that she was doing a fantastic job, that he would give a personal comment to the management.

Once we finished eating, Tom told the person at the register that everyone was doing a fantastic job and that he would mention it at the next board of directors’ meeting. As we walked out the door, we could see everyone looking at one another, asking, “Do you know who that was?”

Tom was quite the character. Then there was his raccoon friend, Rockie. But that’s another story for another time!