I posted a photo on Instagram last week, a photo of and a tribute to my friend and bird dog mentor Tom Gingher. Tom died of cancer. I attended his viewing this past evening. As I drove the 45 minute trip southeast and into a small town north of I-80 you’d never know was there I knew I was in the right place as his truck (with dog topper) was parked out near the road- a much appreciated gesture made by a family member of his. I walked into the funeral home and signed my name and quietly made my way towards the casket while my eyes scanned the room for familiar faces. As I got closer there was a board of photos of him, grouse and setters being part of most of them. Not knowing his wife well, or even if she knew who I was, I quietly said I was sorry and that he was a heck of a guy to which she agreed and went with it much further, as he was indeed more than just that to so many people.
He had a nice wool shirt, the kind you’d want for a crisp October day. Not to be missed was his favorite brass whistle around his neck, his leather lead slung across his shoulder with a picture of his favorite setter and a grouse fan sitting nearby. I was later told he had two shells in his shirt pocket, I’m not sure of the gauge but I don’t think it would’ve have made much difference to him (or the birds) and two may’ve been enough for a PA limit. Regardless, he was all set for a good day. Soon after and as I wandered to the rear again the bird dog guys showed up in spades, most not alone. Many huddled up after paying their respects, conversations dominated by Tom, dogs and grouse. Friends and friendly acquaintances, many met through Tom.
Professionally training dogs for 35 years, beyond having seen it all, Tom was honest, if you’d ask for his opinion on a dog- you would get just that, ever candid.
After Tom’s passing a friend of his told me about taking some Ryman type setters to him:
“We arrived at the farm (Tom’s training grounds) at a training day of his (Tom held many, never charged a dime, and his wife Jane would feed everyone… this is where and when so many friendships with some instances kennel partnerships started and puppies with novice owners at their helm were ensured to get started off right.) and it was time to get my two dogs out. My two were setters, dual-type Ryman setters. Tom said he wasn’t real crazy about Ryman dogs. After working them around the farm and having a find he had a small change of opinion and said “they aren’t too bad, they are actually OK. Then he looked back over his shoulder at the gallery of GSP, Britt, pointer, and field line setters guys and said “Well, that ought to shut them up.”
Another said that Tom said of their dog on kennel stay/training update…
“I don’t know what dog I’m getting, some days she’s great, just what you want. Other days … She’s thick and doesn’t want to do anything right.”
Another, when asking his initial assessment of their dog…
“He (dog) seems to think that “whoa” means to jump around!”
(For all those out there that have a good line from Tom, please put it in the comments.)
Tom’s forte really seemed to be fixing problems (guys had created in their dogs), blinkers, rippers, chasers, gun-shyness, etc.
He’d frequently remind me he had the opportunity to buy Blaze before I did. Tom got to see him a lot, he took Blaze for most of the summer last year to start finishing for complete broke work. At the time I was finishing Annie and was working Pop a lot and got roped into coaching LL fastpitch softball. Having bought Blaze when he was six month old, and subsequently six months behind… he had a further ways to go and being stretched thin last summer he went to Tom’s. He knew I was looking to trial Blaze and methodically moved him along to keep his enthusiasm as high as it was before the broke work began. He said sometime into his investment with Blaze to a group of guys…
“If I can get this dog right and finished on wild birds you all will hear a lot about him. And that won’t just be from me. Blaze is really nice.”
Coming from Tom that carries some weight.
As I left I stood by the car for a long moment getting one last look at his truck, remembering the times before when he’d round the driver side corner and drop the tailgate- it being his workbench, his park bench, his soap box, his fireside, his lecturing podium, his preferred social-media tool and his teacher’s desk all encompassed into one. I fought the urge to go open it up and take a seat for a while, who knows how long I would’ve lingered.
It still hasn’t completely sunk in that he’s gone, or if it has it’s still definitely hasn’t lost its newness. I know for many, investments of his time are still sitting at their feet and the friendships made through him (many formed around that tailgate) haven’t missed a beat. Compliments of Tom. The pointing-dog-mentor patriarch of PA (and quite a few other states) now absent but the “crew” is still together. Here’s where you could insert the cliché about “his memory living on” (of course it will) but the fact is that his credo, on all things pointing dogs, has been instilled in many, that ideology all ready shaping the next generation. It’s had its impact here. He’s missed.