Tom Tucker '66, the Philosopher in the Woodshop

Send by email

Amid the whine of power tools and the dry scraping of hand tools, Tom Tucker ’66 patiently teaches Catlin Gabel students the art of working with wood, an art he learned as a Catlin-Hillside student. “I learned everything at Hillside: how to be curious and excited about learning,” says Tom.

Creativity, and Catlin Gabel, runs in Tom’s blood. His father, architect Ernest Tucker (designer of the Dant House and the Hillside Lower School), always had a home studio, and creating things was part of the family dynamic. Tom’s parents and many members of his extended family have long connections with Catlin Gabel and its predecessor schools. Tom’s sisters and brother are also alumni. After his time at Catlin-Hillside, Tom transferred to public high school, but he kept his CGS connection alive with summer art classes.

Tom’s woodworking skills expanded at Marlboro College, in Vermont. His studies immersed him in law and philosophy, but he also loved building stringed instruments. Music has continued to be a passion, and Tom has long played Irish and Scottish country music with fellow teacher George Thompson ’64 and CGS parent Craig Stewart.

Tom moved back to Oregon after college, setting up a rural homestead where he repaired and built furniture. He reconnected with Catlin Gabel in 1977, when he substituted for his old woodshop teacher Ed Adamy. A couple of years later Ed retired, and Tom returned to teach woodshop for two more years.

His strong urge to build furniture took him away from teaching, but not for long. To make money Tom worked in construction. That ended the day he stood, hammer in hand, in an ugly bathroom, and realized this was no life for him. That night Tom received a call from Catlin Gabel, inviting him to come back to teach woodshop.

Tom has refined his teaching skills in the many years since then. “I’ve learned to really listen to the children,” he says. “The conversations we have about the options available to them, and how their concepts and mine can come together into a final form, are the most exciting parts of teaching.”

Catlin Gabel continues to be a family tradition for Tom. His wife, Laura Frizzell, taught music at the school for 12 years, and both sons are lifers: Ethan graduated last year, and Sam is a sophomore. “Having Ethan and Sam here at school has been a big plus for me,” says Tom. “I loved seeing my kids in the playground, and having them run up to me when they see me and give hugs.”