Thomas J. (Tom) Nathan, much beloved husband, dad, grandfather, great grandfather and friend, passed away on January 20, 2023, at his home in Hartsdale, NY. He was 88 years young.
Tom was born in Los Angeles, CA on May 23, 1934 to Helene Edna Griesheim and Jerome Louis Nathan, both of whom predeceased him. From an early age he was an avid fan of fast cars, sports, writing, and photography, and was known to sneak onto the local racetracks to photograph drivers, solicit their autographs, and write articles about them. Stories of his exploits (along with old photographs to convince doubting listeners) always brought smiles to his kids' (and grandkids') faces as he laughingly talked of being kicked out of drivers' pit areas by the occasional unimpressed track official.
He attended Claremont McKenna College (then known as Claremont Mens College) in Claremont, CA where he studied Communications and Journalism and his lifelong passion for the written word was ignited. After college, he married Anne Arthur (Gottlieb) to whom he would be married for 18 years and joined the U.S. Army. He completed basic training at Fort Ord in Monterey, CA, earning the recognition of "Cadet of the Class" and he and Anne moved to Kirscheimbolanden, Germany where he was stationed for two years. Though he was not deployed, his Army service was a source of great pride for Tom throughout his life.
Tom's first advertising job was in the LA office of McCann-Erickson working for J. Neil Reagan, Ronald Reagan's brother. He sarcastically joked that Neil recognized his writing talent immediately... and put him in charge of the mailroom! A historic career was born. Moving west to Hollywood to chase a dream is a well-worn path, but Tom went the opposite direction... leaving Hollywood to make his professional vision come true on Madison Avenue.
With a pregnant wife and no job prospects or connections, poverty was a great impetus for finding work in The Big Apple. In 1961, as a junior copywriter at SSC&B, he cut his teeth with assignments on Lipton Tea and Pall Mall. As is the case for talented creatives in advertising, moving up meant moving on. He produced award-winning work for top agencies including Scali, McCabe, Sloves, Inc., DKG, Marschalk, Levine Huntley, Schmidt, Plapler & Beaver, TBWA, Backer & Spielvogel and Ammirati & Puris (where Tom's son years later worked as an Account Executive). A short list of companies and brands he helped grow include: The Hartford, Johnson & Johnson, Proctor & Gamble, Sprite, Grey Poupon, Gillette, Anheuser-Busch, Evian, Norelco, Cheerios, Hebrew National, Toshiba, Cartier, Campbell's Soup, Waterford Crystal, Four Seasons Hotels and Bailey's Irish Cream.
While he reached the pinnacle of the profession with Creative Director, Copy Chief and SVP titles, he purposely avoided positions that moved him away from or above where print ads, outdoor, radio and television commercials were made. Tom insisted on being "where the fun is, where the best toys are; art, photography, words, music, actors, voices, sounds, travel, people." He loved film and tape and editing and producing and writing and refused to leave it for a position behind the lines. Tom stayed true to the core disciplines of advertising he valued most - for example, that an ad is supposed to sell something!
Family lore is that Tom's first-ever uttered word was "car." And quite literally, he helped sell millions of cars. Anyone who ever worked with him knew how much he loved working on automotive brands including American Motors, Subaru, Hyundai, Volvo, Saturn and BMW. One memorable ad concept he created for Volvo highlighted a particular innovation never-before-seen in a U.S. passenger car: the rear windshield wiper. It shows the back of a wagon and reads: A VOLVO DISCOVERY: RAIN FALLS ON REAR WINDOWS, TOO.
Tom was a master of his craft. His work, typically thoughtful, quick and funny (like the man himself) often flipped convention on its head to stand out among the talented peers, partners and colleagues he respected so much. His talent was recognized with more than 130 awards including the industry's most esteemed honors: Clios, Effies, Andy's and One Show "Pencils."
However, in advertising as in all areas of his life, Tom valued the people above everything. He wrote "I've worked with gifted, arbitrary, wonderful, sensitive, aggravating, funny, warm, crazy, likeable people. If I'd stayed in one place, I'd never have met them." Tom also gave back to prospective young talent at New York's School of Visual Arts where he taught many classes including one offered in 1992 titled: The Quick, Cheap Way to Find Out How Good You Are (or: Do I Really Want to Spend My Life Making Ads?).
Tom met the love of his life in 1985, when he responded to a personal ad in New York Magazine that caught his eye. The ad began "Shapely, witty, very pretty, affectionate, adventurous, beguiling woman..." and, as if that wasn't enough to grab him, the woman went on to say she was seeking a partner who "is irreverent and fun loving, likes working hard and doing nothing, good books and conversation, and has a warm heart, real values, and integrity." Tom penned a note to the author, Norma Jean (Weitzman) Feldman, in his own alliterative style, and the rest is history. He and Norma fell in love, were married, and have shared nearly four decades of love and laughter together. He cherished Norma every day and regularly told others how lucky he was to have "married up." Everyone who spent time with them knew there was something very rare and special between them.
Tom will be lovingly missed not only by his wife Norma, but by daughter Jenni (Nathan) Collichio and her husband Gregg, daughter Sue (Nathan) Norton and her husband Dave, son Greg Nathan and his wife Alyson (Cohan), step-daughters Allison (Feldman) Hill and Lauren (Feldman) Alevezos and her husband Ty. Affectionately known as Pops, Grandpa and Papa Bear, he will also be dearly missed by his grandchildren Rebecca (Ryan) Curry and her husband Connor, Kelsey Ryan, Samantha Tsokris and her partner Danny Specter, Jack Nathan, Bailey Nathan and Sita Hill. Tom's kids and grandkids will lovingly share his stories in the years to come with his great grandchildren Sydney & Theo Curry as well as future great grandchildren to make sure they too can enjoy his wit and wisdom.
Friends, family, and colleagues who knew him well will remember Tom fondly for his warmth and kindness, insatiable curiosity and thirst for learning, mischievous sense of humor and easy laugh, talent for finding just-the-right words to convey just-the-right thought, commitment to mentoring youth and giving back, love of the Beach Boys (though many would like to erase the memory of him repeatedly singing "Help me Rhonda"), and his shameless love for butter, mayonnaise, cheese and sushi. And while he remained passionate throughout his years about race cars, ice hockey jerseys, fine art and (tragically) the NY Jets, what meant the most to him was family. Always eager to hear what his kids and grandkids cared about, feared, or aspired to, he could be counted on to ask provocative questions, listen thoughtfully, and help them see things from a new angle. All knew his interest was genuine and his love, unconditional.
When Tom purchased an iPhone in his eighties, it was a magical unlock for him and he thoroughly enjoyed being able to stay connected with people it was hard to travel to see. He could regularly be found texting friends and family, sharing jokes and stories and enjoying the ones he received back. He liked to check in on people and hear what was happening in their lives, and his thoughtful notes were often received as "special gifts" because others could feel how much he cared about them. Tom's intellect and wit remained razor sharp over the years and he was known to send lengthy texts that periodically required a dictionary to fully appreciate. Still a copywriter at heart, he would defend himself saying "hey, give me a break - this is my chance to keep testing my writing chops!"
A celebration of Tom's life will be held on Tuesday, January 24th at 10:30am at the Ballard-Durand Funeral Home at 2 Maple Avenue in White Plains NY - people are encouraged to arrive at 10:00am to allow for informal conversation and reminiscing. At 12:45pm, there will be a graveside burial at Sharon Gardens Cemetery at 273 Lakeview Avenue in Valhalla NY. The family will sit Shiva to receive visitors on Tuesday, January 24th and Thursday, January 26th between 5-8pm at Tom & Norma's home, 321 Old Cedar Road in Hartsdale NY. In lieu of flowers, please consider making a donation to the NY School for Visual Arts Alumni Scholarship Award General Fund at www.sva.edu, indicating it is in memory of Thomas J. Nathan.