Remembering Tom Mosca

Published 1:14 pm Friday, August 6, 2010

Editor’s note: In memory of Tom Mosca, long-time chairman of the Block House Steeplechase who died on Wednesday, July 28, the following article is a shortened version of a profile of Mosca that ran in the steeplechase edition of the Bulletin on Friday, April 17, 2009. Funeral services will be held for Mosca tomorrow, 11 a.m., in McFarland Funeral Chapel.

by Katrina Daniel

Forgive me for not getting up, says Tom Mosca as I entered his living room, where he is now lying in a hospital bed, hooked up to oxygen and staving off the ravages of Lou Gehrigs disease as best he can. He might have lost his health, but Tom Mosca has not lost his sense of humor or his humility.

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There are literally thousands of people who over the years have attended the Block House Steeplechase but who will never have the opportunity to meet the man whose hard work has provided them with sport, excitement and a meticulously run horse racing, lawn party/tailgating event for the whole family.

For almost 30 years, tall, handsome, impeccably attired in a blue sports jacket and khaki slacks, Tom Mosca has been the person most identified with the Block House Steeplechase.

Tom, and his equally tall and attractive wife, Lorraine, always appeared like royalty of some kind, vital and vibrant, involved with everyone and everything as they strode around the steeplechase track for so many years.

His walkie-talkie inevitably in hand, Tom has been a vital part of the Block House Steeplechase, working at every job, mastering every position, from grunt in the parking lot, directing traffic, to chairman of the steeplechase, a position he held formally for 12 years and informally for many more.

Sadly, those days have come to an end for Tom Mosca.

About three years ago, Tom began to experience pain in his neck.

Thinking the pain was just normal wear and tear; he ignored it for a while. But after an acupuncturist friend treated him, she commented, Theres something wrong here, and you need to check it out. So he did and the news was not good. In fact, it was both terrible and terrifying. Tom had contracted Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or Lou Gehrigs disease, so called after the famous baseballer who was also a victim of the progressive degenerative neuromuscular disease. There is no known cure and doctors arent even sure what causes ALS, suffice it to say it is a terminal, debilitating and horrible way to end ones life.

Lorraine Mosca took early retirement from her job as teacher at O.P. Earle Elementary School so she could take care of Tom.

She says, After three months of evaluations (at Duke University) the diagnosis of ALS was confirmed. We were devastated, shocked, and determined to do everything we could to control the progression of the disease.

But the disease progressed steadily and just a few short months later, Tom and Lorraine decided to retire to enjoy and spend time with each other and their family and friends, We decided to travel and enjoy life, says Lorraine.

Traveling has become too difficult for Tom now and so he rests at home, visited by Hospice of the Carolina Foothills volunteers twice weekly and watching all the news thats fit to be seen.

But when he was still back in his favorite vocation/avocation as steeplechase chairman, Tom had to be ready to do anything and everything, from making sure the stalls for the visiting racehorses were ready, to appearing before television cameras and radio and newspaper interviews throughout the Carolinas. He was also heavily involved in the Charlotte Steeplechase, the Queens Cup, which he helped get off the ground. In fact, last year the founders of the Charlotte Queens Cup took the unusual step of permanently dedicating the first race of their steeplechase and naming it the Thomas M. Mosca Sr. Hurdle. &bsp;

Still, Toms first love was always closer to home, The Block House.

Tom really was devoted to the Tryon Riding and Hunt Club and the Steeplechase, says Cynthia Boyle, longtime TRHC member. Tom gave the steeplechase his all, at great personal sacrifice. Boyle estimates that Tom Mosca has been instrumental in helping to raise as much as one million dollars for local charities that are the recipient of the Tryon Riding and Hunt Clubs donations, money that comes as a result of the Block House Steeplechase.

Tom says he got his start as a fluke, doing a favor for his good friend, local veterinarian Jerry Dorsam, who asked him to park cars.

After having a couple of years of parking cars under my belt, I found there were additional places to park cars that werent being used. So we expanded parking spaces and increased our revenue. It was a goal of ours to increase the revenues so that we could increase the amount that we can give to charity.

Tom says the steeplechase became very important to him when he realized how instrumental the race could become as a source of recognition and revenues for the entire community. &bsp;

Tom was trained as a CPA and worked for a software company, but he said working with the steeplechase was a lot more fun and more rewarding.

Like all those who have worked with Tom Mosca over the years, Mitzi Lindsey and her daughter, Laura Weicker, who is now the executive director of the Tryon Riding and Hunt Club, have respect and admiration for the man who is credited with making the steeplechase such a success, He could get anybody to do anything says former TRHC executive director Mitzi Lindsey, He was fantastic to work with. Easy going. Understanding.

Toms passion for the Block House races is contagious,” adds Laura Weicker. He has a way about him that exudes strength and confidence. It never mattered how big or small the problem, Tom calmly handled every issue in a quiet, dignified manner.

Tom is handling his illness the same way, with dignity and a clear vision of reality, one that is not pleasant. In their usual manner, Tom and Lorraine are coping valiantly.

When Tom and Lorraine met on Long Island, Tom was a Marine Corps child who had lived everywhere. The couple moved to the Columbus area in 1978.

Toms declining health forced him to scale back and step down from the chairmanship position in 2007. Former airline pilot and American Airlines vice president Warren RauHofer took over after serving as Toms apprentice for several years.

Passing down the torch from Tom to Warren wasnt as easy as it might seem, says RauHofer, Tom had done it so well and instinctively for so many years, he just knew what had to be done. But none of it was written down. It was all in his head.

And those instincts have never failed him, Tom says, The highlight of my experience with the Steeplechase was watching it grow in popularity and also the opportunity to work with Bill and Carrington Price launching the Queens Cup in Charlotte. It was also a highlight to work alongside my son, Tommy, throughout all the years.

Tom and Lorraines only child, Tommy Junior, 30 years old now, almost wasnt there to be able to work with his father. In April 2003, Tommy was nearly killed in a serious truck accident just two weeks before the 2003 Block House Steeplechase.

Perhaps the biggest challenge I ever faced was having to run the steeplechase a little over a week after my sons near fatal accident when he was still in the Trauma ICU at Regional,” Tom says now.

Tommys arms, legs and pelvis were fractured. His head was also severely injured and even those first responders who rushed him to Spartanburg Regional Medical Center werent sure Tommy Junior would survive. But miraculously, he did survive and heal, and Tommy is now doing for others what the EMS and paramedics did for him,

Im so proud of my son,” says Tom Sr., Hes a paramedic for Spartanburg County and also Polk County EMS. After being told that he would never be able to go back to college, he completed his EMT/Paramedic certification. He found his passion for helping others because of the care he received after his accident. And hes helping save lots of lives.

Even as his own health is declining, Tom is thinking about the well being of others. The only way he agreed to be interviewed for this story was under the condition that we give positive mention to the work being done by Hospice of the Carolina Foothills, under whose care he is now.

Ashley Gosnell, social worker with Hospice of the Carolina Foothills says, I really enjoy the opportunity to talk with Tom about his background and the history of the steeplechase. And speaking for other members of the Hospice Care Team that oversees Toms care, Gosnell says, It is an honor and privilege to be a part of caring for Tom. Wed like to thank Tom, Lorraine and Tommy for allowing us into their home.

Tom is always more worried about other people than he is concerned with himself, says Warren RauHofer, I had some serious health issues too, but as sick as Tom is himself, here he is worrying about other people. I guess I can use the term ‘love’ for the way I feel about Tom. There just isnt anyone else like him.

Tom Mosca is ending his steeplechase career with dignity, grace, and gratitude.

When asked what was his best year ever with the steeplechase, Tom answers, They were all good.