In Memoriam: Thomas DeBaggio (1942 to 2011)

| 3/1/2011 1:45:00 PM

S.BelsingerSusan has been writing for The Herb Companion since 1989; she also has written for Ogden Publications Herbs for Health and GRIT magazine. Susan lives an herbal lifestyle—she is a culinary herbalist and educator; and she cultivates, cooks, photographs, crafts, and creates medicinal and aromatherapeutic herbal products. Her favorite pastimes are reading, writing and observing the plants and traveling about sharing the titillating sensory experiences of herbs with like-minded individuals.,,  

On February 21, 2011, Thomas DeBaggio died in his sleep at a nursing home in Annandale, Virginia at the age of 69 due to Alzheimer’s. He is survived by his wife of 47 years, Joyce, and son Francesco DeBaggio, as well as his sister, Mary Ann Lovett. The following evening, National Public Radio did a short piece about Tom.

3-3-2011-thomas debaggioTom was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s at the age of 57 in 2000, and NPR interviewed Tom, Joyce and Francesco periodically during the following ten years. These programs resonated with many listeners across the nation, as Tom was an honest and courageous person who wanted to educate the world about the debilitating and frustrating symptoms of this disease. 

Tom wrote two intimately revealing and heart-wrenching books, Losing My Mind (The Free Press, 2002) and then When It Gets Dark (The Free Press, 2003) about his battle with Alzheimer’s. He had cards made with a photo of his brain compared to a normal brain as a fund raiser for the Alzheimer’s Association. He and Joyce appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show to speak about the disease and his slow decline. Washington Post staff writer and gardening columnist Adrian Higgins wrote a tribute about Tom this week.

I first met Thomas DeBaggio back in 1980 when Carolyn Dille and I were writing our first book, Cooking with Herbs. We were looking for advice from an herb grower and found Tom and DeBaggio Herbs through the herbal grapevine and made a date to visit him. We got very lost getting there and arrived late, giggling and flustered, and rather than being impatient with us, Tom welcomed us and we spent the afternoon with him. That was the beginning of our long friendship with this intelligent, generous, not to mention humorous, introspective man.

Tom generously gave us his ‘Growers’ Guide’ to use in our Cooking with Herbs, which was published in 1981 by Van Nostrand Reinhold. He was supportive of our book project and gave us good, sound advice. Over the years, we spent many hours together in his backyard and greenhouses, at herb demos and booksignings, and dining together in all of our respective homes and various restaurants. He was always enthusiastic and supportive in regards to our many book projects, and besides herbs, would grow everything from alliums and greens to chile peppers and tomatoes—whatever topic we were researching. Besides being an excellent plantsman, his background in journalism helped produce his herbal newsletter and his memorable ‘Ol Peeps Diary’, many articles in magazines and newspapers, and numerous books.

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