Tom Rodgers

Gathering 4 Gardner & Celebration of Mind’s Founder:

 

 

Thomas M. Rodgers

(1943-2012)

Devoted to helping people, Tom Rodgers was a man of vision, passion, and action. Tom cherished civilization and surrounded himself with objects (and people) that evinced and propelled it. Known to enjoy life’s finer things, Tom respected those who had attained them, as he had, through education and work. He also loved to figure things out and appreciated journeys of discovery. Like Martin Gardner, Tom valued curiosity and derived great satisfaction from getting people to use their minds – especially those typically not so inclined. He inspired many students, educators, and artists. His life made the world better.

Tom and I met at one of Jerry Slocum’s puzzle parties. Neighbors during the all-day puzzle exchange, we spent much of it getting to know each other. He enjoyed sharing his knowledge and I eagerly soaked it up. The next year, I was honored to receive an invitation to a G4G conference.

In G4G, Tom created an oasis where especially curious people could engage, collaborate, and celebrate their delightful idiosyncrasies. What a thrill for me, as a first-timer, to find myself among so many people eager to share discoveries that had either piqued or rewarded their curiosity. Spirited interactions abounded: questions, strategies, and wonder were everywhere. Numerous insights and partnerships trace their origins to these curiosity-fueled interactions.

Tom fashioned G4G as a progress-dedicated utopia which valued respect, fairness, openness, candor, beauty, virtuosity, and generosity. During conferences, we gather in a giant ballroom, hours on end, speaker after speaker attempting to arouse our enthusiasm. Many do and a few really do. To those that don’t, we show more than enough appreciation to keep them trying. G4G presentations emphasize math, puzzles, and games but attendees especially enjoy (as Tom did) artists whose work strongly engages the mind. I vividly recall John Edmark receiving thunderous applause, demonstrating his kinetic sculptures (one now in the Museum of Modern Art Design Store). Crucially, the evenings offer the most accessible and irresistible brain-teasers of all: the magicians, challenging us to figure out how they do it.

Leading by example, Tom upheld a tradition of welcoming the several hundred G4G attendees to his home for an afternoon of loosely structured fun. Situated on a glorious property, finely landscaped to evoke the great palaces of Kyoto, Tom’s house was a masterpiece of hand-rendered Japanese esthetic. His hospitality included opportunities to explore his vast collections of puzzles, books, and art. He could not have been more welcoming and his standard influenced everyone lucky enough to experience it.

Tom’s medical diagnosis forced him to work fast. He had much to preserve and many duties to transfer. G4G was at the top of his list. It was his personal gift to humanity, his legacy, and it was in danger. For 20 years, he had operated it in a tightly controlled, personal, way. Suddenly, he needed a succession plan. Two weeks before he died, Tom called six of us to his home to form a leadership group and receive his instructions. It was intensely emotional and extremely powerful to be with Tom as he branded us with his searing devotion to all that G4G is and means.

Sparked by a compelling vision — individual intellectual engagement, through benevolent collaboration, enhancing community prosperity — Tom Rodgers successfully launched a movement whose vast potential remains largely untapped. G4G’s value, while obvious to those it has touched, defies trite categorization. This makes it challenging for conventional grant-makers to embrace. Consequently, the G4G community itself must step into Tom’s shoes and accept responsibility for G4G’s future.

The G4G Foundation, the organization that administers the G4G programs, relies on the G4G community’s financial support and welcomes G4G community-members’ involvement in the discourse shaping G4G’s trajectory. For the first 20 years of its existence, Tom sustained G4G, largely with seemingly unfettered access to his personal time and resources. This high calling has now shifted to the community he created.