Three years ago, I was in the car with a family friend after school, on the way to see my grandfather, who was very ill. My family friend’s phone dinged, and she asked me to read her text message because she was driving. That’s how I found out that my grandfather had passed away. He was 68 years old when he lost his 12-year battle with prostate cancer. I was stunned. Over the next few days, I realized how different my world would be without him, and every day since he passed away, I've worn a “Think Like Tom” wristband to remind me of the impact that he had, and continues to have, on my life. I think back to all of the memories I shared with him. I remember the last conversation I had with him, the night before he died. He was laying in bed when I whispered, “I love you.” His response: “I know.” If you understood that reference, then you can see clearly what kind of man Tom Sherak was.
That last conversation with my grandfather is a perfect demonstration of the humor and uplifting spirit that my grandfather brought to every situation. We both knew it could be the last time we spoke, yet he still found time to sneak in one more “Star Wars” reference. He always made me laugh and brought a smile to my face. When I was younger, I would always look forward to hearing his next joke. Even though my mom would always say that "Papa jokes" were inappropriate when I repeated them, I knew she was laughing inside, because he told her the same jokes when she was my age.
My grandfather’s high spirits were matched only by his devotion to family. To quote another of his favorite movies, "The Godfather", “A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man.” He took pride in his role as the “go-to guy,” as he would always be there whenever I needed anything. No matter how busy he was with work, family always came first. I always looked forward to spending time with him. He would always be the one to take me to see every new movie that I wanted to see. Every winter, I couldn’t wait until spring so we could start going to Dodgers games again. When I was younger, I didn’t realize how special this time I spent with my grandfather was. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until after he passed away that I realized how lucky I am to have had him in my life.
Although I was always #1 (all of the grandchildren are numbered in age order), my grandfather’s high spirit and generosity reached far beyond our family, as he treated everyone he met like family. Throughout his career as a Hollywood executive, he made no enemies and strived to help everyone. During his time at 20th Century Fox, he was often referred to as “the godfather of the lot,” as people would always go to him seeking help, which he would gladly offer. Growing up, I had some idea of the impact that my grandfather had on my life (even though I had not fully realized it yet), but it was not until after he passed that I learned how many people he impacted. When I walked into his memorial service, I was overwhelmed to see that over 1,000 people, including heads of studios, directors, and even the Mayor of Los Angeles, had come to pay their respects. I heard many stories from people whose lives he changed for the better, and read many more in the various obituaries from entertainment publications. Perhaps one of the best stories I read was that of the director whose life my grandfather saved from the 9/11 terrorist attacks by inviting him to a charity dinner on the 10th. This was far from intentional, but a perfect representation of the blessing that my grandfather was to those around him.
Hearing so many stories about how great my grandfather was made me realize how much I took his presence for granted. It never even occurred to me how lucky I was to have someone so great so close to me. It was not until he was gone that I saw the full extent of the effect that he had on my life. The sudden loss of someone with such a powerful impact on my life gave me a greater perspective on the importance of the people around me. Unfortunately, I learned the hard way the importance of cherishing every moment that we have with our loved ones. We’re always told to be grateful for everyone and everything in our lives, but I never truly learned that lesson until I lost someone. It was a hard lesson to learn, but an important one nonetheless. My only wish is that I could’ve realized how special the moments that I spent with my grandfather were at the time and expressed gratitude instead of taking some of the best times of my life for granted.