Tuck '81 remembered for his animated stories

by Alice Gomstyn | 11/1/01 6:00am

(Editor's Note: This is the fourth in a series of articles profiling the Dartmouth victims of the Sept. 11 tragedy.)

The business world knew Thomas Theurkauf, Jr. Tuck. '81 as an influential player in the financial services industry.

"He was one of the most respected financial analysts on Wall Street," said fellow analyst and classmate Mas Kakutami Tuck. '81.

In fact, reporters from major newspapers often turned to Theurkauf for his market expertise, and The Wall Street Journal recently named him the top bank analyst in the country.

That may come as news to some of his friends and acquaintances, for Theurkauf -- known to many as simply "Tom" -- rarely discussed his professional success.

"He wasn't someone who bragged," explained Patricia Theurkauf, the older of Thomas' two younger sisters.

An executive vice president at Keefe, Bruyette and Woods, Thomas Theurkauf perished in the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

Rev. Dean C. Ahlberg, Thomas' brother-in-law and a close friend, described him during his memorial service as one who was most devoted not to his career, but rather to his family.

"The true center of his life had little to do with bank stocks, and had everything to do with his boys," he said.

Thomas is survived by his wife Robin and three sons, aged 9, 11 and 12. One of Thomas' favorite stories, Patricia said, involved his youngest son, Henry.

He and Henry, then six years old, once sat on a boat in a pond behind their home. There, Thomas, who had actively participated in outdoor activities since childhood, taught his young son to fish. When the two caught a fish and Thomas proceeded to reel it in, the fishing hook -- with the fish still attached -- plunged into his palm.

In intense pain and with a surprisingly vivacious fish stubbornly dangling from his hand, Thomas asked his son to row them back to shore. Henry, who had never rowed a boat before, attempted to follow his father's request. With oars in hand, the six- year-old did managed to propel the boat to shore, but only after circling the lake several times.

Thomas, with the aid of his wife, eventually made it to hospital emergency room, where he was treated successfully. The fish wasn't so lucky.

According to his brother William, who also spoke at his memorial service, Thomas greatly enjoyed regaling friends and family with this whimsical story.

"He would become particularly animated while telling it," William told mourners at the Sept. 28 service. "Those of you who have heard this from the source can picture Tom waving is hand wildly as he described the fish attached to his hand and Henry rowing in circles."

Such an anecdote was typical of Thomas' light-hearted approach to life, William said.

"He always had fun and really made people smile," Barbara Theurkauf, the younger of Thomas' two sisters, said. "Everybody liked Tom."

Paul Olsen, Thomas' first-year roommate at Tuck School, agreed.

"He was a great guy," Olsen said. "He was very sociable and always pretty upbeat too."

At Tuck, Thomas managed to strike a manageable balance between friends and academics. Although he excelled in his classes, Thomas "wasn't the kind of guy to be holed up in his room studying when there were more important things out there," Olsen said.

Thomas' amicable nature won him a number of friends, she explained, including high school classmates, coworkers and fellow alumni from Tuck and the Massachussets Institute of Technology, where Thomas earned a bachelor of science degree.

So many of Thomas' friends came to his memorial service, according to Patricia, that the church was "packed."

Friends and family members were often treated to dinner parties that Thomas hosted in his home. There he showcased a skill he had honed over the past 10 years: cooking.

Party guests feasted on dishes such as crown roast of pork. This was in marked contrast to a Thanksgiving dinner held by his parents, Thomas Sr. and Helen, roughly 30 years ago. Her brother's culinary contribution at the time, according to Barbara, consisted of chocolate milk.

In addition to cooking, athletics were another favorite pasttime for Theurkauf. He played soccer both in high school and at MIT, where he held a position on the varsity team. In honor of its fallen alumnus, the institute renamed their annual alumni soccer game and established a sportsmanship award in Thomas' memory.Though his formal soccer career ended following his graduation from MIT, Theurkauf remained an avid sports fan. His favorite team was the New York Giants -- a fact that Thomas made widely known. He often sported a leather Giants jacket and gave each son, upon his birth, an infant-size Giants sweatsuit.

During their games, Barbara explained, Thomas would, "get physically into it, jump up and down, and yell and scream."

Thomas wouldn't even take telephone calls during half-time. "You're going to jinx them," he jokingly told those who dared to call during that period, Barbara remembered.

Thomas' love of the Giants, however, paled in comparison to his love of his wife, Robin, according to Ahlberg.

"He was one of those husbands that tend to get the rest of us husbands in trouble," Ahlberg said at his memorial service.

Thomas, according to Barbara, often brought his wife flowers on random occasions. In a particularly memorable romantic gesture, Thomas presented Robin with a brown paper bag while she sat on a beach during the family's annual vacation in Maine. Robin assumed that her husband had brought her lunch. When she opened the bag, however, she found a diamond ring.

The family's most recent trip to Maine occurred several weeks prior to the tragic Sept. 11 attacks. There, Thomas, his wife and children and a number of other family members went whale watching and enjoyed lobster dinners.

"Everyone had been together and had a good time," Barbara said, recalling with gratitude one of her last opportunities to spend time with her brother before his death.

"He was a pretty phenomenal person," Patricia concluded. Undoubtedly, it is a conclusion reached by countless others as well.