An Interesting Life of Service

Tom was born in Connecticut in 1960 into a family of cooks. Tom learned about the age-old mélange of passion, righteousness, and food at age 10, when his parents had a terse discussion about cooked pasta. The question--should the cooked pasta be rinsed with cold or hot water? The answer — write to NY Times food editor Craig Claiborne and ask him to settle it (his snail mail answer – hot, as it allowed the pasta’s gluten to drink up the awaiting sauce). Later, when they divorced, his father got the cherished paella pan, and it was lost forever to his second family of Stouffer’s-lovers.

Tom entertained a religious life after high school, entered Catholic University but then left after spending more time chasing restaurant jobs than the catechism. Finally, Tom abandoned his first vocation and entered a formal culinary apprenticeship at age 23. Accepted into the kitchens of Watergate chef Klaus Hellman and Michelin chef Yannick Cam, Tom began his indentured life as an American whipping boy in a world of workaholic European artisans. (He began with 36 classmates and after 3 years, graduated with 2 others. Tom’s graduation exam was a 6 course “box test”, to be prepared for D.C’s top chefs (his Dover sole with braised cucumbers was a standout, but the citrus mousse a flop).

At age 27, Tom’s professional life was suddenly disrupted and distracted by Maureen, 41. Three months later, they moved in together, and Tom began living life through the eyes of an older, wise woman. Tom became weary of 70-hour workweeks in the kitchen and left to complete his degrees in behavioral science and rehabilitation.

In his 30’s, fully cloaked in his new professional identity, he taught vocational skills to adults living with mental illness and at 35, piloted a break through program for executive women living with depression and bipolar illness (recognized as a national innovative project by the American Psychiatric Association). At age 40, he started O’Connor Associates, a DC- based care management firm that helped adults with mental illness recover their lives and coach their families to be better managers and advocates for those adult children. During this 15-year era, Tom traveled the country doing psychiatric interventions and coaching parents how to navigate the mental healthcare marketplace for their loved ones.

Today, Tom is launching his next innovative project, Family Psych Consumer, a secure online community for parents and families who provide all the help (and pay most of the bills) for their loved ones with mental illness.

(And at home, he joyfully watches Maureen in her potter’s studio after 30 years together. No kids…. but many, many great meals cooking together.)