Remembering Tom Arnold

Tom Arnold, who was killed in a car accident May 14,  was executive director of York’s Security, Parking & Transportation Services at the time of his death. He was a highly regarded employee, respected and admired by all who knew him and worked with him.

A funeral service for Tom was held at Trinity Anglican Church in Aurora on Tuesday, May 18. The Arnold family has released this message: “As expressions of sympathy, donations to a Trust Fund for Eric and Lauren would be appreciated.” Those in the York community wishing to make a donation may contact Christina Lai, coordinator of special projects with York’s Campus Services & Business Operations (CSBO),, ext. 55105, Room 221, William Small Centre, 155 Campus Walk. CSBO is the centralized collection centre for the donations.

Needless to say, there have been outpourings of grief over Tom’s death in the days that have followed since the tragic news was announced. This article contains sentiments expressed by four friends and colleagues, representing but a few of the comments made about Tom.

The initial three heartfelt pieces were written by Robin Sen, senior manager with York’s Security, Parking & Transportation Services; Professor Diane Duff in York’s School of Nursing, Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies, and a long-time friend of Tom Arnold; and Denise DeSanctis, project & administrative assistant in SPTS. In addition, at her request, we have included published remarks by Janet Lo, executive director of the Smart Commute Association of Black Creek.

Robin Sen

Saying that Tom Arnold was a visionary leader, mentor, and exemplary executive who understood needs, goals and services of a business operation understates the true nature of what the man was all about.

Tom Arnold was a family man. The pride of his home-life was his cherished two children, son Eric and daughter Lauren, and his wife Linda. But family to Tom was more than a conventional narrow definition. “Family” included those people that either knew him for several years or met him in a casual encounter running an errand.

On a regular basis, Tom was able to balance travelling from dance recitals to drama presentations to doctor’s appointments – often juggling three activities per family member after leading groups of managers at work.

Tom’s career path quickly reflected these very beliefs. After administrative studies courses at York University in the mid-80s, Tom accepted a job that combined his love of people with the memories and events of history that left an indelible impression on mankind.

Left: Historic Fort York, foreground

At Toronto’s Historic Fort York, Tom went from being the program coordinator to the operations manager and assistant curator, blending his amazing memory of statistics and numbers with a newfound outlet for his people skills – building operational teams.

This expanding talent and his success soon led Tom to striking out on his own as a management consultant, providing management services relating to the implementation and operation of large-scale functions and conventions. During this period Tom discovered that his passion for people and their success was the keystone to his own vibrancy and energy, and could be applied to any endeavour of his choosing. Tom himself was the catalyst of his own growth potential – he was able to create opportunity.

Then a new opportunity arose for Tom: a job at York University, coordinating a team of Student Security staff members. Tom’s ability to see a vision of success, to see more opportunity, to mould educated minds and work with students in an environment that could only expand, led him to take a position that he initially interviewed for only to gain more experience.

York University became important in Tom’s life. He rose through the management tier, becoming manager of Student Security Services, then added Parking Operations to his portfolio and finally Transportation & Security, completing a trio of related units.

As executive director of Security, Parking & Transportation Services, Tom topped off a 14-year career at York with financial, operational and strategic successes that have positively affected the services of the University community, with his position as Chair of Smart Commute (the Black Creek Regional Transportation Management Association) and involvement in City of Toronto transportation steering committees.

He managed to redefine how people travel in the city of Toronto. As past-president and board member of the Canadian Parking Association and a member of innumerable security and parking associations, both locally and internationally, Tom expanded the horizons of his contacts and forged relationships that have created an invisible but solid backbone of personal and professional support.

But, how can one person do all of this? Tom knew he couldn’t do it alone and understood that his success was the success of the people he worked with. His success was his friends. His success was his family.

As a genuine, caring, compassionate friend, Tom shared all aspects of his life with everyone he knew. He listened attentively to all who confided in him. Position, place in life and rank were mere measures of bureaucratic business processes to Tom, not a refection of long-term, more painstaking, and ultimately more human, successes. Tom’s staff grew into a family and showed them what success could look like, what success meant. He was part of their lives, sharing their happiness and sorrow – marriages, births and deaths. He was a shoulder to cry on, a listener of frustration, a steady, focused father-figure who comforted and stood by his co-workers and revelled in their achievements.

Tom shared his love of his cottage, his obsession with boats, his encyclopedic knowledge of almost every topic, and, on occasion, his appreciation of 15-year-old single malt scotch – Glenfarclas, rating near the top of his experiences. Tom truly lived a life that exemplified his beliefs and he gave much time with his community church. He understood that showing his genuine humanity was the only respectful way to relate to his fellow employees. In return, his staff showered him with respect, hard work and love.

In the end, what remains from Tom, from all the experiences he has shared with every life that he has touched, is the following: Tom Arnold is a leader whose vision showed us the person we each aspire to be.

Diane Duff

Tom was born February 26, 1954, and raised in North York by his parents, Vera and Eric Arnold. He attended Avondale Public School, Bayview Junior High and Earl Haig Secondary School. While his friends insist there are no stories about Tom that you couldn’t tell your maiden great-aunt, they then dissolve into gales of laughter.

Tom was a great sports enthusiast. Early in his athletic career, he played for the WHA (Worst Hockey Association) and was apparently one of their outstanding (worst) players. A dreadful skater, his position was “the boards” where his teammates joked that they dressed him in orange and used him as a pylon. Fortunately, Tom’s real forte lay in darts and bowling. So feared a darts player was Tom that his mates would gang up on him in games of Killer Darts and take him out of the game early. While Tom could handily win any ordinary dart game, it took him 25 years to finally win a game of Killer Darts last year.

At Earl Haig Secondary School, Tom majored in poker and bridge. He was a member of two fraternities, the most famous of which was Kappa Kumquat. He was also an enthusiastic member of the Earl Haig band where he played the trombone with great verve and some skill. A founding member of SOPSS (Student Organization to Promote School Spirit), Tom impressed the principal with his dedication. The principal announced many meetings for the executive in Portable A to plan school events. Fortunately, the principal never twigged that Portable A was the code name for the Algonquin Tavern, a local watering hole that has long since been redeveloped.

Still in high school, Tom took a summer job as a guard at Fort York and developed a keen interest in Canadian history and re-enactments. Tom worked at Fort York from 1972 until 1988, rising through the ranks to eventually become the assistant curator.

                              Right: Scene from Historic Fort York 

A favourite story from his times at the fort was that during an invitational performance in Los Angeles, Tom and his roommate were startled while getting into their costumes by the sound of someone trying to get into their hotel room. Tom, half-clad, grabbed his two-headed axe while his roommate armed himself with his pike. A hotel guest, rather the worst for wear from drink, had the fright of his life when he staggered through the door and into a 19th-century Canadian pioneer tableau

Tom’s first love when he was in high school was a white van, named Happy Daze. He used it to transport friends to and from school and social events. But he met his true love and lifelong sweetheart in 1972 on his 18th birthday. Tom had gone out to dinner with a friend who then insisted he attend a dance with girls from Victoria Park Secondary School. His initial reluctance at the dance turned to interest, when he met Linda Walroth. So smitten was Tom, that a year later while he was on a high-school band exchange in Copenhagen, Denmark, lovesick and lonely, he managed to fall off a pier and into the Baltic Sea while extolling Linda’s virtues, and had to be rescued by his friends. Linda and Tom were married on October 9, 1976, amid thunder, lightening, hail, rain, and eventually blazing sunshine.

Tom and Linda loved to socialize and were accomplished hosts and party organizers. They had a large circle of friends from high school, the Princess Margaret Hospital, Fort York, York University and their neighbourhood. Tom had the knack of both making and keeping friends. No matter the circumstance or the weather, several high-school friends of Tom’s met religiously, every year on Groundhog weekend, to play some cards, darts and backgammon, socialize and catch up on each others’ lives. While the venue changed over the years from unheated cottages with outdoor plumbing to winterized chalets and eventually to the Grandview resort, Tom never missed a Groundhog weekend in 30 years. One friend quipped the only reason they had to move to a heated venue over the years was that they were afraid their medications would freeze!

Tom was a great family man. His son Eric was born in 1987 and his daughter Lauren was born in 1994. Tom was so proud when his kids were born that he nearly burst with happiness. As a father extraordinaire, Tom did it all, from Beaver leader, complete with the multi-coloured blue and brown uniform, to hockey coach, car-pooler and organizer. He cherished his weekends with his family at home and at the cottage.

Denise DeSanctis

I just wanted to take a moment to give you a heads-up on what to expect from staff members in our department over the next little while. We are not taking Tom’s passing very well. Tom was so much more than a boss to us. I don’t think the average person can truly appreciate what Tom meant to the members of his department. We have truly lost a family member. He was North on the compass and it is going to take us a while to find our bearings again.

I know that the University executive is well aware that they lost a great employee last Friday night. Tom’s enthusiasm for every challenge that came his way and his unbelievable ability to get up in front of crowds of people with not more than a minute’s notice and bring any event to life are true testaments of his character.

But it is the man behind the scenes that truly touched the hearts of all those who worked alongside him. Tom did not take the position of executive director because of the power associated with it. He was in his position because he felt that he could make a difference. And that he did! Tom was an innovative thinker with a heart of gold. Not only did he have great plans for York, he also had great aspirations for the staff members who work here. He always looked for people’s strengths and then took the time to assign projects that would help develop them. He had a way of making everyone from the front lines to management feel important and special. I can’t tell you how many times over the last few days, I have heard people say that they didn’t even realize their talents until Tom tapped into them. Not only did Tom help them develop their skills but he also made sure that the rest of the department acknowledged their successes.

Working in SPTS can be very difficult, and our staff members receive a lot of negative feedback on a daily basis. Tom’s undying enthusiasm and encouragement helped the management team stay focused and positive. He was one of those rare individuals who is absolutely irreplaceable. I have yet to meet a person who is more generous, kind-hearted, empathetic, intelligent, innovative, responsible, personable and driven than Tom Arnold. He was the most inspirational person I have ever had the great pleasure of knowing.

Janet Lo

In an article carried in Metroland Papers May 18, Janet Lo, friend and colleague of Tom, and executive director of the Smart Commute Association of Black Creek, spoke of Tom’s enormous contributions to the transportation management association. As Chair of Smart Commute, “He made the vision a reality. A lot of people talked about it in the 90s, but he got people together with his magnetic personality and made things happen,” said Lo.   Tom’s initiatives, she added, led to the reduction of the number of vehicles on the road in Toronto’s peak areas by 4,000 a day, with the implementiation of car pools, improving transit and encouraging cycling. “His goal was to reduce the terrible smog and traffic buildup, which hurts the quality of life.”

More about Tom Arnold

  • Executive director, York Security, Parking & Transportation Services (2002-present)
  • Director, York Parking & Transportation Services (1999-2002)
  • Director, York Parking Services (1998-1999)
  • Manager, York Parking & Student Security (1992-1998)
  • Manager, York Student Security Services (1991-1992)
  • Coordinator, York Student Security Services (1990-1991)
  • Management consultant (1988-1990)
  • Operations manager & assistant curator, Historical Fort York, Toronto (1984-1988)
  • Program coordinator, Historical Fort York, Toronto (1979-1983)
  • Member, Canadian Parking Association Board of Directors (1992-2004)
  • President, Canadian Parking Association (1998-2000)
  • Chair, Smart Commute (BCRTMA) (2000-2004)

During Tom’s time with BCRTMA, York University won first prize from the Canadian Association of University Business Officers 2003 Productivity & Quality Awards Program for the transportation management association.

Left: William Small Centre, home of York’s Parking Services

Tom was responsible for introducing leading edge technology to parking operations at York, and for the introduction as far back as 1994 of CCTV monitoring of parking lots that improved campus safety & security. He was also responsible for the introduction of multi-level parking structures at the Keele campus, which became necessary to meet requirements of the city as the University developed.