A group of over 140 colleagues, clients, friends and family members recently gathered for Tom Payette’s Celebration of Life at the deCordova Museum in Lincoln, MA. It was a lovely day for us to remember Tom in a beautiful setting.
Six speakers, from his son to work colleagues, talked about different aspects of Tom’s life and the impact he had on them. The common thread from each speech was Tom’s commitment to family and to the architectural profession.
Tom’s son, Scott Payette, who is also an architect, talked about Tom the father, not just the architect, and his strong focus on family. His heartfelt stories about his father brought summers on the Vineyard and Christmas in Cambridge to life. Tom loved talking about his children and grandchildren and really enjoyed having a large family.
Kevin Sullivan, President of Payette, met Tom when he joined the firm in 1987. He described how Tom created an enduring collaborative firm culture that has been like a family for us all. “Tom was courageous, no challenge was unachievable, and no disappointment could phase him. He encouraged us to do remarkable things, always looking forward, never dwelling on the past and always encouraging us to do great design, but most importantly, never allowing us to forget the importance of family and maintaining a life beyond architecture.”
Gary Graham, Principal and Co-Founder of Graham/Meus Architects, worked at Payette from 1970-1980. He talked about Tom as his “last boss” before establishing his own firm in 1980. “Tom was always open, positive, accessible – and a hard worker who led by example. He taught me everything I know about leadership and being a design professional. Tom had an uncanny ability to pick good people, and respect and trust them implicitly. Tom was never a micromanager. He was brilliant and creative on his own, but he also gave each of us enough space to succeed, or even sometimes fail. We generally succeeded, and it was always because we knew if we had a better idea he would support it.”
Mark Careaga, Principal and Founder of Mark Careaga Architecture (MCA) in Cambridge, worked at Payette from 1998-2019. Mark expressed how fortunate he was to spend the first 15 years of his professional life working with Tom. “There is so much to celebrate about Tom’s life – his accomplishments, his character, the impact he has had on so many peoples’ lives. I often think about the hundreds, if not thousands, of people who move through the beautiful courtyards each day at the Aga Khan University Hospital – people who never knew nor met Tom but take delight in, or are comforted by, the tranquil environment of that campus, a beautiful oasis amid the dust and din of Karachi. My grandfather used to say, the most important thing in life is to leave the world at least a little better than you found it. Tom did that on a grand scale, through architecture but more importantly, through relationships … His optimism and enthusiasm were infectious and inspired me and many others to give the best we had to offer, in the service of architecture for people.”
Tom’s nephew, Mike DeVries, President of DeVries Designs, talked about working at Payette, “Uncle Tom’s Office,” when he took a year off from college to determine what he wanted to do. Tom generously offered him a position at Payette, where he met young architects his age and he became an important social connection in the office. Mike is now known for designing some of the best golf courses on the planet.
Marilyn Brandt, a close family friend, described how she met Tom and his wife, Ginny, when traveling in Colorado. What began as a happenstance carpooling situation became a life-long friendship. Tom encouraged her to pursue landscape architecture as a career, which she did and eventually established her own firm.
It was wonderful to see so many past and present Payette employees in attendance, as well as many of Tom’s peers from the BSA, with many traveling across the country to celebrate Tom. The gathering gave all of us the opportunity to share stories with each other and honor Tom’s life and legacy.
Photography (c) Jonah Prada