The Yang-Tan Institute has created this memory book in honor of our Executive Director, Thomas P. Golden, to share stories of his dedication to advancing opportunities for people with disabilities. Stories shared here will be collated into a hardbound book and presented to the Golden family, select colleagues, and the Cornell University archives.Read all memories
Thomas had a profound influence on my life, and one which I have appreciated more and more as I have shifted through my career. I joined YTI (then EDI) directly from my PhD in 2011, full of enthusiasm and quite in awe of the institution I joined. My role didnt bring me into direct contact with Thomas for a while, so I initially got to know him from a distance, until he invited me to help teach on his disability policy course. Once we were working together I saw the warmth and inclusion of Thomas' management style, and the way he looked within people, found their strengths and nurtured them through genuine care and support but by pushing them to stretch into new areas. This leadership style was the first lesson Thomas taught me, and one which I have reflected on many times over the years. The second key lesson he taught me was about balancing work and family, and the absolute treasure of children. He took such joy in meeting my young daughter during a visit back to Ithaca, who I had been pregnant with when I left EDI. And when my son was born a couple of years later he sent the most wonderful message. The way he parented his own children was inspirational to me. The warmth and care he showed to colleagues at work was evident 100 fold - more! - in his children. I loved to see his brag posts on facebook about them. I'm so saddened by the loss of Thomas, but the lessons he taught me and inspired in me will stay with me forever and I am so grateful for that.
When I returned from maternity leave in 2000, my desk was in the hall outside Thomas's office. The whole office was small, so its not like I was ever that far away, but in that space I really began to appreciate Thomas's way of working and being in the workplace. He led from the front, with humor, with compassion, and with discipline. No matter how busy he was, if you needed a moment of his attention at work, he would give it truly - you knew he was listening and making space to hear what you were saying. If you asked a question, he gave it consideration. And if you were struggling with something, he met that struggle with grace. Throughout all the years that followed, through all the new grants and new work and new office spaces and getting his PhD and all the rest, he never stopped doing that. He brought his huge love of life and respect for people with him wherever he went. He shared his love of his own family and appreciated that others in the Institute had thier own family ties and respected them. He loved babies, and good food, and jokes, and pretty things, and homely things, and made the workplace a more inclusive, comfortable place. This picture is of Thomas and my younger daughter at the PED/EDI/YTI Christmas party in 2003, and I love it for everything it says about who he was - someone who made sure we celebrated as a group, who loved kids and welcomed them into our gathering so we all could attend, and who could go from being boisterous to having the calm steadiness that made babies trust him as a stranger. Thomas lived out his faith in a deep and affecting way - never letting it be a force for exclusion. Instead, its principles were infused into everything he did. My tradition uses the phrase "respect the dignity of every human being," and Thomas was an absolute exemplar of how that works in action.
When I first came to NYS as a teacher, I had a hard time finding people who shared my interest in transition from school to work for students with disabilities. I eventually found a conference on the topic at Cornell; when I met Thomas, knew I'd found "my people". A seed money grant and advice from Thomas's program sparked transition programming at my school and when a position opened at Cornell I eagerly joined his dedicated and creative team. I have many fond memories of working with Thomas, of many celebrations and morning bagels in the workroom, of creative project development and innovation, of crazy-fun Homecoming booth exploits and promotion of our Institute, of seriously deep strategy discussions around advancing projects and policies to improve lives of persons with disabilities, of mentoring college students around disability-interest areas. A mentor and friend to many, Thomas and his unique zest will be greatly missed. I am forever grateful to have known him and for the opportunities his work made possible, not only for those with disabilities, but also for me and many others who will carry his influence forward..
It is hard to think of one memory that captures the richness of Thomas's personality. Perhaps that is part of the reason he impacted so many peoples' lives; he was just so interesting. He had an ability to be in a serious meeting and make important contributions all while making jokes and putting smiles on everyone's faces. He was a dedicated family man and leader within YTI. We are all better off having known Thomas.
Thomas and I met on the Cornell campus in 1991 in the Supported Employment Management and Service Delivery certificate training series, led by Susanne Bruyere. The certificate program ran for almost a year. Thomas made me pinky swear that I would sign up for the same sessions he was taking and that we would sit next to each other in every class. Of course I kept my promise, and thus began three decades of riotous Thom(as)-foolery. Three notable sides to this story of our meeting... 1. Thomas declared he would marry Janel Haas and wrote her love letters during the training sessions (he did); 2. Thomas declared he would one day run the very training program we were taking as training director for Cornell's PED (he did) and; 3. We cemented our friendship with one of the trainers of the course, Connie Britt, aka Connie Ferrell. In January 2000, Thomas invited me into the PED (later EDI and now YTI) family and I have never looked back. I never would have been able to imagine the amount of fun, hi-jinx, work and opportunity to forge new ground working alongside Thomas would offer. Over the span of so many years, we attended and co-presented at countless conferences, trainings and sat around conference room tables from New York to Washington D.C. We co-authored articles and book chapters. We worked side by side on numerous grants - all aimed at the same mission: to promote and support the full inclusion of individuals with disabilities in all walks of life. We raised our kids together, counseled one another through rough patches, offered each other a spiritual connection, had sleep overs, celebrated holidays and our birthdays and always, always, always laughed until we cried. Thomas was my wing man, my strongest supporter, my brother, my work husband and a best friend. And Lord, we got stories. Spontaneous combustion and a proclivity for good competitive fun brought us into places we would have never dared travel alone. Almost as fun as living through the stories was trying to tell the story to others - together. Thomas always remembered himself as the brave hero in our most outrageous ventures. Which of course we all know was totally not true. Our experiences seemed to always have an element of suspense and hysteria mixed together. Like when we worked on a grant that took us inside of New York's maximum security prisons for 5 years. Traveling prison halls with armed guards and inmates on the move was an absolute sight to watch Thomas navigate. But in typical Thomas fashion, he established friendships with several of the guys on the block-(some of whom were still in touch with him even after the work ended) - was on a first name basis with two of the three Superintendents and in one facility even got his own identification badge that allowed him to move through the place like he owned it. Or sitting in the dark at Studio 54 in NYC attending a live performance of Cabaret...Thomas SUDDENLY realizes what is going on behind the screen shade on the stage and yells his famous line "Oh My Sweet Jesus" across the entire audience. I think that was the same night he was convinced he had caught a glimpse of Danny Glover at our hotel so he, Dave Brewer and I set out to search for him and stumbled into a Broadway Actors Theater Guild awards ceremony. We missed the ceremony but learned there was to be an after party in one of the pent house apartments in the hotel. I am proud to say that it took great ingenuity, creativity, our own acting skills and lots of chutzpah to find and crash that party. We danced, ate and drank with the stars until three in the morning. One evening in a hotel at Christmas, we happened across an empty and unlocked Christmas Toy Land set. Thomas convinced a total stranger to use his phone to take a video of he and I inside the Candy Shoppe acting out a play and singing Christmas songs. It was our very own holiday special which I believe he made our colleagues at YTI watch. Our stories are the best part of who we were as a team. I feel a profound sense of loss, grief and bewilderment. Thank you, Janel, Sophie, Kaleb and Josiah for so generously sharing your Thomas and your dad with me. I am so grateful that he entwined our families: connecting Blessings with the Golden thread... I love you all dearly. For always.Favorite quote by Thomas:
""I double-dog dare you.""
Many folks in their memories noted that Thomas had a mischievous side to him and the ability to be outrageous while telling the truth. Our small BPAO team had a retreat in Skaneatelas, NY. We had a lovely dinner at Rosalie's. I have always contacted colleagues when at conferences about having a glass of wine after returning to the hotel and settling down for the eve. That evening while still at the restaurant, however, Thomas turned to me and while laughing said 'And don't call me tonight at nine for a drink, Janel will be here and we are making a baby!' Such was Thomas' sharing spirit. You just had to love him for it. Ed
I didn't know Thomas as well or as long as everyone else. Like everyone else, he left a lasting and utterly unforgettable impression. I wasn't just new to the job, I was new to this part of the country and really struggling for my 4-year-old and I to gain footing in our new life. His exuberant friendliness and warmth were so needed. Nobody had been unkind, but I hadn’t made any real connections yet, and his special brand of nosiness with an absolute interest in getting to know people was so appreciated. He was one of the most genuine people I’ve ever met. From his childlike curiosity to know all about how I got here, to his mischievous giggles as he diverted from the set menu at the holiday lunch, his brightness just sucked everyone in. I wish I had found the words to tell him myself, but sharing about Thomas here and reading the memories of others gives me a smile. I imagine he’s giggling at how, even in his absence, he makes people smile in that same real and genuine way he always spread everywhere he went.
I went to YTI in 2017 as a visiting scholar and met Thomas. The most unforgettable thing of Thomas for me is my first speech at Cornell. He was in the chair and introduced me to the audience when I gave a lecture to the students at the class "Global Comparative Disability Policy" of ILR. He encouraged me with his smile when I was nervous during the whole time. I still remembered his smile, the way he spoke and his erudition. He was a very kind of person and I miss him very much.
It is difficult to capture all of the memories I shared with Thomas, but our journey as friends, colleagues, and co-conspirators in our work to increase employment opportunities for people with disabilities began when we co-authored two white papers under the New York Medicaid Infrastructure Grants. It then carried into our work on NYS PROMISE, and then eventually the work of the Yang Tan Institute at Cornell. From our shared passion for the field emerged an even stronger friendship that I will cherish for the remainder of my days. On various personal and professional levels Thomas was a guiding and supportive force in my life. He truly was a light unto the world, and brightened the lives of so many people, but that light has led an undeniable imprint on me that I can only hope to reflect.
This is very sad news. Thomas was one of our favorite guests and we always enjoyed his visits. As great as our limited interactions with him were I can’t imagine the loss that his colleagues who worked a lot closer with him are feeling, not to mention his friends and family. I’ll be sending this link to my staff as I know several of us will want to share our memories of Thomas. We’re very sorry for your loss. Thank you for reaching out to us and letting us know
It was certainly heartbreaking to hear the news. Professor Golden was a true inspiration for all the work he did not just for Disability as a subject, but for the society as a whole that continues to struggle, not knowing how to deal with it. He was a phenomenal mentor for me and for so many of his students. Sending prayers for you, all colleagues in the Institute and for his family. He will truly be missed. Please take care.
Thank you so very much for passing this along; I don't think I was included on the initial e-mail wave. I am extremely saddened to hear this news about Thomas. During my time at ILR, he was an outstanding support for me in everything that I endeavored, and I will forever be grateful for that. I had been meaning to reach out to him to give him an update on my career earlier this year, but most regrettably failed to do so in light of some of my own challenges and the pandemic.
I am heartbroken over this news. Working with Professor Bruyere and Professor Golden on my Honors Thesis was one of my most impactful experiences at ILR and I will always be grateful for his encouragement, support, and words of wisdom during that time. My thesis was constantly a work in progress and it would not have come to full fruition had it not been for you and Professor Golden. I'm sure that his loss is felt so deeply at YTI and with his friends and family. I am keeping you all in my thoughts during this most difficult time.
Past Sunday I lost a dear and wonderful my friend, Thomas Patrick Golden because of pancreatic cancer. We first met and studied together 8 years ago at Cornell University, ILR School, Institute on Employment and Disability. He gave me opportunity to give lectures in his Global Comparative Disability Policy class and even he directed some of his students for my advisory. I remember the lunch times with Thomas. Thomas was a bright, compassionate, optimistic, committed and fun colleague and friend. Today, the world lost one of the leading practitioners and coach in the area of Vocational Rehabilitation and disability policies. Dr. Golden was my dear friend. He was a great family man, a wonderful teacher, and an extraordinary leader. I spent time with Thomas at Cornell and those were fantastic years, personally and professionally. I have so many wonderful memories of time spent with Thomas. Thomas will forever be missed. As long as I live I will never forget you. Sincere condolences to you, his wife Janel and children.
Although I didn't know Professor Golden personally, it is always a sad time when we lose an educator. May peace and comfort find the family during this time.
I took two courses with Professor Golden and he was a wonderful man whose light will shine far beyond his time here. I appreciate you letting us know personally. Professor Golden is the epitome of strength and resilience. I was granted the privilege of taking two courses with Professor Golden and every time he challenged me in such a necessary and enlightening way. Being able to hear and see Professor Golden lecture was always a treat. He had such a radiating energy that always kept me engaged. He was also so knowledgeable on the subject matter, so much so that oftentimes students would stray away from course material and just ask questions that interested them and Professor Golden always seemed to have an answer. His courses were by far some of my favorites. I am so happy that Professor Golden played a role in my ILR experience. I know that his name, his work, and most importantly how he made others feel, will continue to speak for the greatness that was Professor Golden.
Thank you so much for letting me know. This news truly breaks my heart. Thomas was such a great person. During his life he brought so much happiness to so many people (including myself). We were all better for having had him in our lives. He often spoke of how lucky he was to work at YTI (though I was at Cornell before it had that name!) and how highly he thought of his colleagues- my condolences to both of you and everyone else at YTI. I will be sure to send a note to his family soon. Again, I truly appreciate you for letting me know. I hope you are both doing well during this difficult time.
As hard as it is to hear about this, I appreciate you thinking of the broader community who have been influenced by Professor Golden and providing us with this update. I also appreciate your words in highlighting Professor Golden's buoyant energy and irrepressible optimism. Remembering those unique traits of his helps me process this news in a way that helps me focus on how fortunate I am to have been able to associate with someone like him and to be part of the broader Disability Studies family at Cornell
It’s taken me a bit of time to process the news. I am so sorry for your and the team’s loss. My heart aches for you all. I know what an amazing and remarkable person Thomas’ was. I’m still in disbelief. Please pass my condolences to the team and to his family. If there’s anything I can do, please let me know
Thank you, I had just heard about Thomas’ passing and was reflecting on my gratitude for him and how to send a note to the family. I’m so appreciative of the two years I had the opportunity to work with all of you, and Thomas truly had an impact on my life with his supportive, optimistic, compassionate care for others.
I just wanted to reach out to you & say that I was sorry to hear about Thomas. I know you two worked together for a long time and I imagine this is very hard for you. I am thinking about you – and your/his other colleagues in YTI. I didn’t know him well, but I did find him to be kind and funny. Eons ago, a bunch of us made Christmas wreaths over in the Conference Center (back in the Ann Herson days) and he was a riot, lots of fun. Always thought of that day whenever Ann used to put up the wreaths in the conference center around the holidays, good times.
I am so sorry and saddened to hear this news, and for the loss of our colleague and your friend, Thomas. I count my work with him a highlight of my MILR experience and enjoyed laughing with him and seeing how much he valued teaching future disability policymakers. The pride he felt when Josh Lafazan came in to speak, for example, was absolutely palpable. What a joy that was to witness and be a part of. I’m thinking of Thomas’ family. What a loss. Sending you comfort.
Thank you for the message. Unfortunately, I have not had the opportunity to know Thomas in person. However, his work and his interventions during our Gladnet meetings were always relevant and appropriate. An estimable Colleague. My most sincere condolences to his Family and to his closest Friends and Colleagues.
Very sad news. A great loss. He was strongly involved in his work. Many people shall miss him. My thoughts go also to his family. I wish them strength.
Thomas will be greatly missed, I’m sure, in many, many places, not to speak of his circle of family and friends. His contribution in the field of disability has really made a difference. Sympathies and condolences to his family and to you all in the Yang/Tan Institute. May he rest in peace.
I remember Thomas for his enthusiasm in whatever he undertook.
I first met Thomas in 2017 when I was visiting Cornell as a visiting scholar in YTI. He was a great leader who was devoted to his work and research. I remember him greeting me with a smile on his face and having a long talk with him in YTI. He was very interested in the policies of not only the people with Disabilities in the United States but in other countries as well such as Korea. Therefore, I was deeply impressed by his passionate appearance and everything he has been through has become a role model in my life. There is a feeling of deep sorrow in my heart due to his passing, but the value of his passionate research during his time will remain deep in my heart. It was a great honor to be working with Thomas as a visiting scholar during my stay in YTI.
Thomas knew how to have fun. And he knew how to make people feel special. I recall one morning when I was getting the mail and he was so excited to see me because he had an idea to do a "flash mob" at the ILR picnic (he knew of my group fitness instructor background). It was nearly impossible to say no to Thomas - especially something that clearly would have given him much joy. So I worked on a routine with another coworker, and we performed the flash mob at the picnic. I left YTI (then EDI) for a job at CAHRS in 2012, and even still, whenever I saw Thomas, his face lit up. I don't know how to describe it. He emanated love. During the pandemic, if I was in a Zoom with him, he would private message me "hi friend!" I wish I could have told him how special he made me feel - even if I did not know him very well. On the other hand, I knew the essence of his being - love and kindness - and in that respect, I knew him very deeply. He will be missed. I will do my best to spread the love and make people feel special like he did to so many people.Favorite quote by Thomas:
I had the privilege of working with Thomas over the course of over 20 years at YTI. He believed passionately in its mission and gave tirelessly to every project he was involved in. I always enjoyed hearing his belly laugh in the hall outside of the office, his wonderful sense of humor and positive view of life uplifted everyone he worked with. Thomas was truly the heart and soul of YTI and will be sorely missed.
I’ve struggled a bit in thinking of a memory of Thomas to share, and on reflecting I think it’s because so much of what I loved and will remember about him wasn’t tied to events, but to his energy and presence. He had a way of filling a space with warmth and a sense of connection, and of remembering personal details so that conversations spaced across months felt continuous. He had a gift for reading people and situations and responding in ways that made challenging situations more comfortable and positive situations more fun and productive. Thomas was like no other organizational leader I’ve ever worked with, and he is irreplaceable. In so many ways, Thomas WAS YTI and I mourn both the loss of him as an individual and as a singular leader.Favorite quote by Thomas:
""Might could" Thomas was the only person I ever knew to use this phrase, and over the years I slowly found it creeping into my own speech."
While I did not have the privilege of knowing Thomas well or for very long, I knew right away that he was a kind and beautiful person, someone who, in the Jewish tradition, we call as mensch. Intelligence, wit, and thoughtfulness accompanied by a wonderful smile. I will miss him and extend my deepest sympathy to his loved ones and co-workers.
I don't have many distinct memories of Thomas, rather a constellation of interactions over time. I first met Thomas in person as a part of my association with the NYS Division on Career Development and Transition (DCDT). He graciously presented for us at " The NYS DCDT 5th Statewide Institute on Transition TALKING TRANSITION Partnerships to Leverage Success: A Collaborative Forum," as he had done many times. I had heard so much about him from David Brewer and Nancy Hinkley that it felt like I was meeting a celebrity. The NYS DCDT Executive board holds the annual retreat in the Doherty Lounge in Ives Hall of the Ithaca campus. Thomas would "pop-in" usually with some goodies to share (Cornell/YTI promotional items left from homecoming), When I joined YTI, Thomas made it seem like his gain rather than mine. I will never forget those amazing hugs, smiles, and love for his family and work. Thomas didn't do anything halfway. I will hold him in my heart forever. Eternal be his memory!
The first time I met Thomas was over breakfast at Banfi in the Statler Hotel on Cornell’s campus. This was my job interview. I showed up with a cold, and the first thing Thomas did was make sure I had a glass of orange juice to help my body fight the cold. We talked about YTI, his work, my work, Cornell, his life, my life, and life in the southern tier, all while enjoying a wonderful breakfast. I learned over time that this wide-ranging conversation was typical anytime I sat down with Thomas. And what was always evident was his caring. Caring for the people that his work was impacting, caring for his colleagues, and deep love and caring for his family.Favorite quote by Thomas:
"No quote, just his wonderful laugh is what always comes to mind when I think of Thomas."
Thomas was an exceptional leader, friend and event planner extraordinaire. My fondest memory of Thomas is the time he said, “Kate, we’re going to have a booth at Homecoming and we’re going to win for the best booth!” Knowing Thomas, I knew he was right. We got right to planning and decided on a theme of an “accessible boardwalk”. We designed swag for giveaways, hired a photobooth, and even made hawker trays to drum up business to the booth by slinging popcorn and salt water taffy to people walking around the other booths. The most coveted piece of swag at the entire event was a YTI soccer scarf that Camille designed for alums of our disability studies sequence. Alums were sent an email in advance and had to stop by our booth to get their scarf. This caused a bit of a frenzy and much of the senior leadership of Cornell wound up with a YTI soccer scarf. As a leader, he knew how to have fun and bring out the best in others while making them smile; whether it was an inappropriate joke or a big bear hug. As a friend, he knew how to connect with anyone and make them feel valued and appreciated. He always asked questions about your family and how they were and what they were up to. He donned my husband with the nickname, “Sweet Trav” when they hit it off the first time they met. I will miss his leadership, friendship and event planning skills immensely. RIP TPG!Favorite quote by Thomas:
As we mourn Tom, I feel as if the world has lost a true and rare Renaissance man. He was so many things to his family, friends, and colleagues. An accomplished expert in the arcane world of Social Security work incentives for people with disabilities; a recognized researcher with prodigious and enlightening publications; a caring teacher; a warm, funny irreverent colleague whose sense of fun and life was intoxicating – working with Tom was never really work, it was something one dove into with pleasure. Tom was that rare combination – a serious scholar who never took himself too seriously. He had something so many of us strive to find – a true sense of balance about what was important in life. Anyone who knew Tom knew how important his family was to him and he unabashedly let his love for them shine through in all he did. In all the years I knew him, I never saw him angry or mean-spirited or even petty – he drew from an inner strength most of us are still seeking. He seemingly had boundless energy for all his interests from holiday decorating, to gardening, to going fishing, to his love of cooking – especially baking! My diabetes sugar level spikes were, I am sure, quite often the result of simply looking at photos he posted of his beautiful bakery creations. Tom’s strong religious faith sustained him, but it never became twisted into judgment of others, nor as a cloak he slipped into when convenient. Instead, he was a devout embodiment of what being a good Christian means. In my religion of Judaism, Heaven is not so much a construct of a place, but rather of one’s legacy – how one is remembered afterwards. There is no higher Jewish compliment than to call someone a mensch. The classic definition of mensch is “a person who can be relied on to act with honor and dignity.” But the Yiddish really means much more than that, it also means someone who is kind and compassionate. Rabbi Neil Kurshan characterizes being a mensch as: “responsibility fused with compassion, a sense that one’s own personal needs and desires are limited by the needs and desires of other people. A mensch acts with self-restraint and humility, always sensitive to the feelings and thoughts of others. A mensch is driven by a sense of innate decency, motivated by a sense of values to live up to but not out of regard for recognition. They will act as a mensch even at times when it may be hard to be one.” Tom Golden had a post doc in how to be a mensch and he is for sure in Heaven. We say: “May his memory be for a blessing” meaning that we are wishing that the stories and memories of Tom will influence all of us who were graced to know him to be better people. RIP, dear friend. Ilene Zeitzer
Thomas was a maestro at (lovingly) making people feel uncomfortable, as a way to peel away layers of social discomfort and bring people together. Two of my best friends in life were people that I met for the first time in the presence of Thomas, and I remember that we had such ... unexpected ... conversations during those initial meetings that it felt like friendship was inevitable. Thomas was a walking, talking, hugging ice breaker and that made him really special to be around. Dishonesty never really seemed like an option when hanging out (or even working) with Thomas, and I think in the month since he passed away I have really found myself wanting to reflect on how important it is to have people like that in your life, and how grateful I am to have the relationship that had with him, and with the people he joyously made me uncomfortable around.Favorite quote by Thomas:
""It might could happen.""
I met Thomas while I was working at Wildwood under the PROMISE grant. He worked closely with my husband, and when he came to town, he often took our family out to dinner. Thomas very quickly became an extended family member to our family. Our daughter, Jewel joked that he was her "work father" and would always come over to photo bomb zoom meetings when she was home from college and heard Thomas's voice. He gave her advice on boyfriends, assessing quickly whether guys were good enough for her to be dating based on information that she shared. At one point he had her convinced that he was going to crash her dress rehearsal for her school play, because he wanted to watch her perform, but was not in town during the actual performance. He said, "No one will even know I am there. I will just sit in the back". (As if anyone could ever fail to notice Thomas. And he was NOT one to sit quietly in the background.) Although there was a lot of joking, she took his words and counsel to heart. Everyone did, because while Thomas was known to share slightly inappropriate jokes and could instantly have us all in tears of laughter, he also spoke the truth in love, and he wasted no words when it came to telling you what he thought. He also shared his faith openly and demonstrated his love of his savior through his kindness towards others. What was also always clear was Thomas's love for his family. Even when he was traveling without his family, he spoke of them so often hat we all felt like we knew them. Thomas will be dearly missed. Every time I look at my garden and my hibiscus tree, I will think of Thomas's first visit to our new house. Before he even greeted us upon coming up our front steps, he threw his sandals to the side, dropped his bags, and made a mad dash, barefoot, through our garden, exclaiming his excitement about the unique color of the tree and deadheading the flowers that had wilted. I made a mental note to remind myself to take better care of the deadheading before his next visit, because he was so attune to those little details. I have never met anyone quite like Thomas, and I feel so blessed to have known him on this earth.
I'm so heavy hearted to hear of this lose. Thomas was known as the most impactful mischievous advocate when it came to employment and benefits. He was the total advocate whether it was his amazing technical skills with trainings or his uncanniness to schmooze right up to someone just to get in their good grace, all in the vain of advancing the disability cause. He loved Christmas and I will never forget the year he brought the biggest gift basked I had ever seen my life. That sure did represent Thomas, full of life, jubilation and joy. What a soul that will be missed, much respect to you Thomas.
Despite (or in spite of) what Santa says, Thomas taught me that it's possible to be both naughty AND nice. Evidence: getting me to create a diversion so that Thomas could shoplift several (very lovely) water bottles from a conference registration desk at the Hotel School; crashing a "Broadway Theater League" party in a Manhattan penthouse wearing cargo shorts and flannel, and pretending to know people; taking me clothes shopping during regular business hours because "Oh my god, David, you cannot go around like that;" and, of course, the legendary Lord of the Flies incident at a publicly funded professional development activity that we named Camp Get-a-Life, where Thomas arrived, locked and loaded, with semi-automatic water rifles and balloons, organized full-scale attacks on innocent campers, and tied, tarred and feathered one of the camp directors (all true). My favorite story was told to me by someone in Florida. She said that while Thomas stayed at a hotel in Georgia (?) for a conference, it was hot in his room. So, he left the sliding glass door to his room open and then went downstairs to supper. When he came back, a raccoon was sitting on his bed. He made me promise that I would never tell this story -- my bad. I will deeply miss being an unwitting accomplice to the good trouble Thomas got himself and the rest of us into.Favorite quote by Thomas:
"Extend the hand of friendship with one hand, and your business card with the other."
Thomas was such a people person individual! I had a pleasure of meeting his wife and he made a connection for us through my name. His favorite family movie was Beautician and the Beast and when he first met me he confidently stated my name as if he was a native speaker. He said years of watching the movie helped, described his favorite scene when “Svetlana” as a character was introduced. What a great person of values❤️He will be missed greatly.
Thomas and I shared many things over the past 30 years since we’ve known each other -- brainstorming about the future and needed strategic focus of PED, EDI, and YTI, as our institute grew from the “Program” on Employment and Disability, to the Employment and Disability Institute, to the Yang-Tan Institute on Employment and Disability, stories about growing up in Ogdensburg, NY, updates about our parents, family and our girls growing up, and even some shared trips to Puerto Rico for work, where we were able to bring our families. But, probably one of our most enduring bonds was a delight with all things Christmas, particularly decorating our homes throughout each nook and corner during the holidays. In our early years at PED, when we had only about 6-8 people, we would hold the holiday party at my home. Below is a photo from the mid-1990s and a young Thomas in the background. It was a homey and very warm environment and I loved decorating for it. We soon outgrew that venue, as I am sure you all can envision, and moved it on campus to our ILR Conference Center. Once my daughter went off to college, I spent less and less time each year decorating, until it all but ended, as I usually went to visit her in Seattle, once she moved there some time ago. I happened to mention this to Thomas the first year that I decided I would forgo a Christmas tree, and felt a little sad about it, but couldn’t bring myself to put in the effort, when I knew I’d be away. The next day a beautiful little three-foot fully-decorated Christmas tree, lights and all, ended up my desk and cheered me for the remaining two weeks before I left for Seattle. A similar scenario re-surfaced last Christmas, as my first gifted tree from Thomas was always now at my home to give me the tree that I wouldn’t have otherwise put up and so my office didn’t have this lovely decoration in it in December. So, last year another beautiful fully-decorated Christmas tree was deposited in my office one evening, and discovered the next morning to my absolute delight. It now, too, has made its way to my home to cheer a pandemic recluse. So, I now have these wonderful two Christmas trees to keep me “in the Christmas Spirit,” although the Spirit that I have shared the Christmas decorating bond with has now departed. So, Thomas, this comes to say a another heartfelt “thank you” to you, for sharing this love of Christmas with me, and for leaving me with these two wonderful memories that I promise to put up each Christmas, to remember this bond with you and the magic of this beautiful season that we both have loved so deeply. With deepest enduring appreciation for your creativity, generosity, friendship and love of Christmas! Susanne
I worked with Thomas as a local advisor while he completed his dissertation at George Washington University. As a researcher, he was top-notch - creative, always questioning, persistent. As a student and a colleague, he was a delightful, gentle spirit.
I have known Thomas quite a while from our church, Owego Nazarene. However, about 4 or 5 years ago when I was given the task of early service announcements, Thomas was a real encourager. He sought me out almost weekly to tell me how much I was appreciated and what a good job I was doing. Even when I messed up or stumbled over my words, he would give me a positive answer, telling me that people liked that I was "real" and natural. He always made me feel like I was the most special person in all the world. Thomas was a great friend and will be greatly missed!
Reflection on Thomas Golden At the APSE Conference in Lake Placid years ago, a bunch of people planned to meet at the end of the day to take a run around the lake. At the time, I was training for a long run coming up in a few weeks. I recall that Thomas planned to join us even though he was new to running. We all gathered at the bottom of the big hill near the hotel, about 15 or so people, a big group. There was laughing and joking, everyone in a good mood given the beauty of the day and the setting. The group took off and as usually happens within the first mile, the group starts to spread out. I was more a jogger than a runner so i drifted back from the crowd. As we got about half way around the lake, Thomas called out to the group that he was going to walk the rest of the way. I was already hanging back from the group so I stopped to walk with him. I think he was feeling a little self conscious and encouraged me to go ahead without him but I told him walking was fine and that I’d rather take in the day and walk along with him. We had light conversation as we made our way back to the hotel - family, work, nothing heavy. I think Thomas appreciated me hanging with him as the runners forged forward. About a year or so later, I was scheduled to speak at a seminar that YTI was coordinating. Thomas knew my career experiences well since I was often engaged with the Institute one way or another. When Thomas introduced me, he didn’t focus on my title or experiences in the field. Instead, he briefly told the story of how I had stayed back from the runners to walk with him around the lake. I was surprised and slightly embarrassed in the moment but quickly realized that in our field, his sharing that story eased my introduction to the audience more than any title or list of responsibilities ever could. So, I always appreciated his spontaneity, his grounded-ness and his true embodiment of people first throughout our work together over many years. Frank Coco
It is difficult to adequately express the impact that Thomas has had upon my career and life. He was a constant role model and source of inspiration as I tried to develop my skills as a trainer and teacher in the earlier years of my career. I still incorporate the techniques I learned from watching and co-training with him over the decades we worked together. Thomas approached all he did with supreme compassion, engagement and intellect and above all, honesty. These were also the qualities that he contributed to our long and close friendship. He was always available to me if I reached out to him and was never too busy for a conversation. His laugh was infectious and he took great delight in all that life had to offer him, including and especially the love and support of Janel and his wonderful children. His contributions to our field and to the untold thousands of persons with disabilities whose lives were improved by his work are immeasurable. I will sorely and forever miss my good friend and colleague.Favorite quote by Thomas:
"Jesus, Mary and Joseph!"
The last memory I have of Thomas was at a conference in Lake Placid. We were both trying to win the same raffle basket and ended up fighting and laughing as we tried to outbid each other in the last minute. I didn't know Thomas well, but he seemed to be the kind of man who wasn't afraid to fight for a good cause.
Before I applied for a position at YTI, I visited with staff who spoke so highly of their mentor and friend that I knew it was the place I wanted to be. I was very nervous during my first interview and was prepared to answer questions about research methods, my past grant funding, and future research interests. In the middle of the interview, it was mentioned I am from Oklahoma, and with genuine excitement, Thomas said, "You'll know what this is!" He turned around, grabbed something off his shelf, and held a rose rock up to the zoom camera, and I was able to identify the Oklahoma state rock. I never expected to laugh during the interview, but Thomas had a way of putting everyone at ease. I will forever be grateful for his kindness.
I first met Thomas at a Social Security Benefits training. At the time, I was employed at Challenge in Ithaca,working in their Supported Employment Program. We stayed in touch after that initial introduction for many years, in a mentor, friend, and colleague relationship. We would catch up over lunch at Banfi's (his treat) which was a highlight for me, being a relatively low paid direct service professional. It was fascinating to compare ivy league policy, data and practices with what was happening at the ground level in the field. We compared notes, complained, laughed a lot, and gave each other food for thought. I always appreciated his perspective . As the time passed, I changed jobs and we weren't able to maintain our Banfi's business briefings. But just a few years ago, a small bit of misfortune, briefly reconnected us. Thomas had bought an absolute beautiful,settee (antique love seat). Despite all of his wisdom and attention to detail, he neglected to secure it appropriately during transport, and it flew off his truck, on the highway!! This beautiful, but damaged, hand-carved masterpiece was in shambles. Two legs had broken completely. He brought the piece to the upholstery department at Capabilities in Elmira, where I currently work, to be fixed. It was one of the most challenging furniture repairs we've ever mastered, but with perseverance, it was restored perfectly. I'm pretty sure the upholstery staff helped secure it in his truck for the ride home. I'm thankful for the time we've shared and for the memories that continue. Thomas, you helped make the world just a bit better and your contributions will continue for many years to come.
I had the opportunity to work with Thomas on a the PROMISE project. He simply was a astounding leader for the project, so smart and always leaded with his heart.
I will always be grateful for the amazing privilege of working with Thomas for eight years. His presence in the world was so audacious and so beautiful, that it is very difficult to wrap my mind around his absence. Thomas just seemed 'more alive' than most people, like he really truly knew how to live a good life and create joy in it. He was brilliant, no doubt. But he was also loving and fun and charming and wise. When Thomas gave you his attention, it felt like the sun was shining on you. I will forever feel the loss of his guidance, his laughter, his brilliance and his heart. We miss you Thomas. In your too-short years you have left an indelible mark on this earth.
I first met Thomas virtually through Gladnet many years ago and slowly became familiar with his work. Later on, I asked Thom to review my thesis and was overwhelmed with his comments and suggestions – all great. In early 2019, Thom was mentioning the coming cohort of fellows to the YTI @ ILR and I joking asked where’s mine. Within 24 hours Thom wrote to me asking me to submit my project to which I responded “what”. Four weeks later, one zoom interview with Susanne and I was staring at my Fellowship invite from the ILR – wow what an honour! Fast forward four months and I’m standing outside Dolgen Hall on the corner of Tower and Garden in stifling summer heat with my head still spinning. I was here to take up an opportunity to conduct paradigm-shifting research with the support of some of the best minds in disability and employment using world-class facilities at one of the world’s pre-eminent institutions all because of an off-hand comment to Thom and his ability, nay need to provide opportunities for people to reach for greatness. In the back of my head I could hear my mentor, Trevor Parmenter’s voice reminding me of the magnitude of the honour and to take advantage of it and enjoy it. Not long after that I finally met Thom who commented that my desk space could be better and true to his nature, the next day he had my space rearranged. We went out to lunch that day with Thom, the first of many with faculty that had been arranged. The generosity of mind and spirit was overwhelming and only added to my excitement at being at YTI. Great people are often a reflection of their leaders and I know now that Thom was one hell of a leader, better still he was and is a great guy with a generosity of spirit that has created a permanent legacy that will only grow by virtue of his impact on people. I will always celebrate my connection to Thom and the opportunity he gave me to be a part of the YTI family. Equally, I see him every time I see a deconstructed hamburger on a menu. Why?, because of the detailed description he gave me at our first meeting of why he ate them and why I should. His quirkiness and his unfailing love for his family and community that was on permanent display and the graciousness that he displayed to friends new and old have left an indelible print on my psyche, something that I am eternally grateful for. I miss you, friend.
Thomas was my supervisor at YTI. He taught me so much about the field, about politics, about life. When I brought an issue with Thomas that he thought was serious, he would talk about the necessity to have a "come to Jesus" discussion with the person. I always knew it was serious when he involved Jesus! I am going to miss his guidance and his perspective in my work and in my life.Favorite quote by Thomas:
"You need to have a come to Jesus discussion!"
I met Thomas in 2001 when I first joined the New York State Education Department (NYSED) and have had the pleasure of working with him on multiple NYSED contracts throughout the years, including the current Office of Special Education Educational Partnership. I first began working with Thomas in his role as the lead for the Transition Coordination Sites back in the early 2000's. Being new to my position and to NYSED, Thomas made me feel welcome and at ease with his warm smile and positive attitude. He was such a smart guy and I learned a lot from him over the years. The lessons I learned from Thomas helped me grow into my current position and for that I am forever grateful. Thomas had a deep understanding of disability-related issues and worked so hard to address those issues. It was obvious that he genuinely cared about individuals with disabilities. What was also obvious is that he was truly a family man, often mentioning his wife and children in his conversations. Thomas was truly a great guy.Favorite quote by Thomas:
"Regarding engaging students with disabilities in their transition to post school living, learning and working, Thomas would always remind us of the phrase. "Nothing About Me Without Me.""
My memory of Thomas is highlighted by his graciousness toward colleagues and his willingness to support people with disabilities. All of our interactions were generally via virtual meetings of GLADNET, where he contributed much over and beyond his role as Treasurer. Thomas iniitiated several important webinars on aspects of his work in researching and supporting people with a disability obtain a real job. Not only was he a first rate highly respected scholar, but also a person of vision and compassion. His ideals will continue to be a beacon for those who follow his path. Thomas, a truly great man, whose life has been an inspiration for those priviledged to have known him.
I was a project officer at the National Institute of Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research. I originally knew Thomas via his work in disability employment and in the area of transition to employment for youth with disabilities. I later got to know him as a person as well. Thomas was smart, but he was also caring and generous. He opened up opportunities for others and enriched their lives. And he had a great sense of humor. I’m sure his circle of friends, family, and colleagues will miss him greatly.
I have worked for the NYS Developmental Disabilities Planning Council (DDPC) for 20+ years. Over that time, we have funded numerous projects with Thomas and Cornell University. By its very nature, the funder/fundee relationship is frequently quite formal with discussions of timelines, performance measures and financial reporting. Thomas’ intelligence and the quality of his work were quickly able to put funders at ease. In fact, we were grateful to partner with him because he would make us look good. But that’s not why I wrote this. If you were fortunate enough to have those lines of professionalism blurred (as many of us were), you would see a man who was not only fun but deeply cared (on a spiritual basis) about the underserved individuals that he worked for. He would use all of his god-given ability (intelligence, sense of humor, work ethic) to ensure that these individuals knew that they were valued and had value...no matter what their circumstances. A great illustration of this… Several years ago, we did a project working with individuals with developmental disabilities in the NYS Prison system. The work was quite challenging at times because the prison systems mantra of care, custody and control didn’t mesh well with the concepts of person centered planning. I am chuckling as I write that because you could hardly find a place less conducive to any kind of individual empowerment than the prison system. Thomas (and Carol Blessing) worked tirelessly to sell this concept to prison administrators, corrections officers, vocational educators and inmates to make the program successful.... no small task. Thomas took the time to understand the lives and experiences of the inmates and develop personal relationships with them. I still remember Thomas hugging the inmates at times which was certainly not a part of prison culture. For Thomas, it always seemed very appropriate. It was who he was. On behalf of the NYSDDPC, our Executive Director Sheila Carey and myself, it has been an honor to work with Thomas and to consider him a friend. He will be greatly missed by everyone he touched.Favorite quote by Thomas:
"Oh Sweet Jesus"
Given our respective roles in ILR Outreach, Thomas and I would often find ourselves in the same meetings. In the days when these were in person, he would always make a point to come up to me before or after the meeting to catch up. When we all went virtual earlier this year, he would often send me private chats in Zoom to say how good it was to see me and to ask how I was doing. He had a great sense of humor, so these interactions often involved a good amount of laughter. It was always evident to me that these interactions were not the product of some perceived obligation, but rather the manifestation of Thomas' genuine interest in and caring for others. I was shocked and saddened to learn of his passing, and will miss him as both a colleague and a friend.
It seems just few months back that I met Prof Golden and we somehow could not have the proposed meal together as he wished to know my work while I came to spend a short stay of 5 months as a Fulbright visiting Fellow at YTI, Cornell. He met me and introduced himself the day I had a research presentation at YTI. He was not able to be attend my presentation and hence instantly scheduled to meet for a early morning breakfast while our research discussion. I instantly felt his warmth and jovial spirit. I can see his family bond through the lovely family pictures at his office. I still remember his vibrant smiling face. May his soul rest in peace.
I had the privilege of working with Thomas while i was with the NYS Education Department and later with the Developmental Disabilities Planning Council. He could educate anyone about disability policy at the national level as well as bring it down to how it would impact directly on people's lives. He was a true professional but even more important he was one of the most fun people i ever spent working and personal time with. Just an absolute joy to spend time with and make my side and mouth hurt from laughing. But more important than anything to him was his family and the absolute joy he had in them. It was his energy, his fuel, his lifeforce, and he would share that all with you.Favorite quote by Thomas:
"Typically it was "Oh Please". But it wasn't the quote as much as it was the look that he would give you when you were just so full of yourself or full of BS."
Thomas was one of the most positive individuals that I have ever met in my lifetime. He was constantly finding the good in others, the good in a difficult situation, the humor to deflect a matter, always open for a good discussion, ready to listen, and eager to act. Thomas was a role model for me and how I want to live my life, as well as how I want others to perceive me. He will always hold a special place in my heart - I entered on the NY scene in 2017 without a clue and he walked up to me and extended the warmest welcome. As I started my work in NY, he was always there to exchange ideas, help solve a problem, connect me to the right people, and years later he was still doing that even when we weren't on the same project. Thomas was a true professional, and beyond that he saw the humanity in everyone. He treated everyone with deep love, kindness, and with a steady hand. He will be deeply missed. I promise to honor his memory, lifetime of work with PWD, and hope that you find peace knowing how many lives he influenced.