At the end of his life, Tom told me he regretted being barely known in his homeland, so I made it my business to see what I could do to change that. There were signs that the timing was right to further expand Tom’s reputation.
Otava Publishing Company, one of the two largest publishers in Finland, saw one of Tom of Finland Foundation’s Retrospectives in a London art bookstore. They contacted ToFF about doing a biography on Tom, who, at the time, was completely unknown to the average Finn.
During this same time, a Finnish filmmaker, Ilppo Pohjola, came to ToFF with a desire to do a documentary about Tom. At the Foundation we sought out a reputable gallery in Helsinki to have a one-man exhibition for their native son: We found Galerie Pelin.
Confined to his home and too ill to travel to America anymore, Tom became the Finn’s “number one son” almost overnight. He lived to see his documentary, Daddy and the Muscle Academy, to read the papers and see the television news on the upcoming book release, art exhibition, and the airing of Daddy on Finnish television.
When his one-man show opened, several works were acquired by the Kiasma, Helsinki’s Museum of Contemporary Art. A representative from Tom’s birthplace, Kaarina, purchased one of Tom’s drawings as well, to be displayed in its town hall.
Tom and I discussed his last days on this earth and the subject was decided long before the final illness that took him. We went through the most grueling periods of the AIDS epidemic together, where mutual friends were in such agony, that all we wanted for them was a painless and quick departure. Tom and I made a pact that when either of our “times” got anywhere close, that the other would step in and assist. Because of our business and personal relationship, we both agreed that we could not be in the same locale at the time of his worldly departure.
Our good friend Viki was clued in to our pact and was to make sure he gave Tom my last package to him. Viki himself was another beautiful gift given to Tom in his closing episode. The boy was a diamond, so easy for Tom to spend time with, a natural beauty providing pleasure and inspiration to Tom and still that fanciful connection that all gay men dream of—the perfect parting gift.
It was so important to provide Tom the dignity of being in his own home, to be on his own time so he could choose, with a sense of self determination, control over his own death. When that time came and Tom was deep in a dream state, a visitor came by unexpected. Alarmed and unable to rouse Tom, he called emergency services.
Though Tom was in a hospital bed, rather than his own bed as he had intended, he ultimately succeeded in his design. May we learn from this and permit those who choose to navigate their own vessel into the sea, to do so with respect. Tom set sail on 7th November 1991.
Published: 30th December 2021Tags: #TomOfFinland101, 101 Quiz, 7th November 1991, The Official Life and Work of a Gay Hero
Categorised in: History