You can’t really describe Tom Booth. You just had to be there.
I was blessed to be in his orbit for the last six years or so. Tom had a ton of friends, most of them much closer to him than I was. But when I was around him, it felt like I’d known him for a much longer time.
Tom died Tuesday at his home in Wren at the age of 68. I was stunned to learn he was that old because he possessed the verve of a much younger man. He was the executive director for Tupelo Community Theatre for 30-plus years, and he was the perfect person for the job.
Beyond that, he was simply a great person. If you didn’t know Tom personally, you likely knew of him. He tirelessly devoted himself to the art of theater and, more importantly, to the people involved in it. A lot of my friends in the theater community are heartbroken right now, and so am I.
I didn’t get into acting until I hit my 40s. I’d always wanted to try it but was too scared. Long story short, I did my first play at the Claude Gentry Theatre in Baldwyn in 2016, a western called “The Peacemakers.” I played a villain named Van Belanger. Tom came to one of the performances, and a friend told me that Tom loved how I portrayed the character.
I didn’t know Tom well at the time, but I knew who he was, and his endorsement gave me an invaluable boost in confidence.
Tom was always an encourager. He was demanding, sure, but the kind of demanding that springs from a true love for the art. Not only did he run TCT, he acted and directed, and every play he was involved in reflected passion. That was really true for all the plays at both The Lyric and Tupelo Off Broadway — because we knew Tom was watching.
I remember attending a play a year or two ago — I forget which one — and during intermission I got to talking to a lady who was from out of town. She saw there was a play and decided to check it out. She was blown away by the quality of the production and the fact that a small town like Tupelo was home to such a thriving theater. I can’t recall if Tom was directly involved in that play, but I know he was a big reason this lady was so impressed.
As hard as Tom worked, he never seemed stressed. One of my favorite memories is when Tom showed up to a cast party and regaled us with stories and jokes and, yes, a little gossip. (The theater community LOVES gossip.) He was truly one of the funniest, nicest people I’ve ever known.
If there is any consolation for us, it’s that Tom was doing what he loved when he died — preparing for a big theater competition. The Mississippi Theatre Association’s Annual Festival began Thursday in Tupelo. It’s hard to imagine this festival or any other theater activity carrying on without Tom, but his spirit will always be at The Lyric, and it will always be with those of us who knew and loved him.
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