By Dan Haley
Tom Cusack has died. And somehow we missed it. Got scooped by the damned Oak Leaves on the death of a former River Forest village president. Tom, I assume, would chalk it up to one last snub by the Journal.
After all, in the old days we really did go at it. OK, maybe we baited each other a little. In my column, I'd call River Forest "Sleepy Hollow" and complain that nothing ever changed — especially the village president. He'd express outrage and then propose that River Forest secede from Oak Park and River Forest High School and establish plain old River Forest High School.
He'd call me up and spit some vinegar in my ear. I'd take umbrage and hiss a little, also aware that I liked running his real estate ads for Cusack Realty in the back of the paper.
The years went along and Tom retired from local politics. We'd run into each other at events or on the street and the snarls turned into laughs and jawboning. We came, I'd say, to appreciate each other and the feisty advocates we'd been for causes we held close.
The man loved River Forest. And, like Mister Rogers, he liked it just the way you are/it was. So he got all teed up as the village's new administrator position was created and Jim Devine, like Cusack a proud veteran, tried to impose some order on, and process in, the Mayberry/Sleepy Hollow form of government. It was always a good day when I could interview each of them and listen to the sparking and the spitting.
And I loved the Journal and its role in reporting on the inevitable tensions brewing as River Forest finally began to shake off its quiet ways. It was the classic local elected vs. local editor feud. Not all bad. Not at all.
When Tom left office, he focused on his family, his real estate office, the River Forest Service Club and the Memorial Day Parade which he chaired, if you believe the Journal's reporting, for 50 years. It was during the annual appeal when Tom would call and ask the paper to be a parade sponsor that we really moved past the real and the trumped-up sparring we'd always done. I'd always seen the humor in the man, but I came to see the tenderness, too. He talked about his wife Joan — 60 years together according to the Trib obit — in a way only a few husbands talk of their wives. His heart was on his sleeve for all that Memorial Day meant to him, having served in both World War II and in Korea. And his affection for his hometown was real and profound.
Surprised me then, but shouldn't have, in the family's obituary (see page 28) that his time as village president got half a sentence and that came after being Service Club president and "founder and grand marshal of the River Forest Memorial Day Parade."
Mainly, in addition to a seemingly endless crew of grandkids and siblings, his life story was about his Catholic faith and the daily Mass he attended at St. Luke, the youth sports coaching that "Coach Cuz" did year after year, the volunteering he did at his grandchildren's Ascension School.
His was a small-town life, lived well.
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