(Editor’s Note: St. John’s lost our friend Tom Hope in 2017. This Faces of St. John’s story serves as a tribute of his spirit and the impact he made on his friends, family, and the Rochester community. )
At the age of 94, Tom Hope is still a force of nature. Recovering from a stroke he suffered on Christmas Eve, 2014, and making considerable progress in the Lilac Neighborhood of the St. John’s Home only a few weeks later, one can sense his strength in mind, body and spirit. It’s easy to wonder what it would have been like to speak with him just a month earlier and how he was in his heyday.
As an Army officer in World War II from 1942-45 and then a State Department envoy to Europe tasked with implementing parts of the Marshall Plan from 1952-54, Tom contributed considerably to the military and to international development.
He is also an author of non-fiction books (such as Bonding for Life and The Battle in Common), a film producer, a Kodak staffer, a business owner, and founder of the local chapter of Honor Flight, which takes veterans to Washington, DC, to see the monuments free of charge. Tom himself is looking forward to a Feb. 3 trip to the Capital where he will receive a Congressional Gold Medal for his service in the Army Special Forces.
Along with his wife, Mabeth, and their three sons, Tom has been a resident of Brighton for 60 years in the same home on Carverdale Street. He and Mabeth both moved to St. John’s Meadows in January 2012.
Born in Minnesota, Tom met Mabeth on the set of a commercial he was filming in 1948 and the couple married one year later. He attended the University of Texas at El Paso, where, in addition to his studies, he shot video of the football games for analysis. He graduated in 1942. That was also the year he was drafted and received his degree in absentia while on basic training in Missouri. In 2012 he attended the 100th anniversary of his alma mater—the oldest alumnus in attendance—and even danced to some big-band tunes, to boot.
Back in ’42, Tom attended Army motion picture school in Long Island and served as a photo officer in France, England, Holland, Belgium and Germany. He arrived in Europe via the Queen Elizabeth, on which the Glenn Miller Orchestra was also traveling. “I danced my way into combat,” Tom said. He never fired a gun, but was shot at quite a bit. “I never died, though, and was never hit.”
In addition to many dangerous missions, Lieutenant Hope also once accidentally stepped on General Patton’s foot on a plane. But that was a minor incident which drew no fire, verbal or otherwise. Tom said his greatest contribution to the war was determining through slow motion film that parachute jumpers were breaking their legs based on the way they were told to land with their feet apart.
“Landing with their feet together instead solved the problem,” he said. “It cut down on a lot of casualties.”
After the war, Tom returned to Minnesota where he worked for General Mills. It was there that he took Dwight Eisenhower’s photo for the second time, the first in Germany when he was a general and the second when he was running for president. Remarkably, Ike remembered the young photo officer.
In 1952, during what he calls one of the high points of his life, Tom helped implement parts of the Marshall Plan headquartered in Paris, where he stayed until ’54. He said the State Department wanted him to go on to Greece for another assignment, but he and Mabeth decided against it.
“We wanted our kids to grow up in the US and not be State Department brats,” Tom said.
He took a job in the motion picture and audio visual division of Kodak where he worked for 16 years until taking early retirement in 1970. He then founded his own independent research firm called Hope Reports, which he ran until 2002. The father of three is also a grandfather of five.
“I had a lot of fun, met a lot of people and did a lot of traveling,” Tom said. “Now I’m just trying to relearn how to walk, and hope I can when I receive my award in Washington.”