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Thomas J. Gaykowski

May 2, 2021

Obituary

Thomas Joseph Gaykowski, 59, passed away suddenly Sunday, May 2, 2021 in East Orange General Hospital in East Orange, New Jersey. He suffered cardiac arrest in his sleep.

A memorial service will be held virtually by the family on June 19, 2021 on his 60th birthday.

Burial will take place at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Clark, New Jersey later in the year. He will be buried with his parents.

The son of the late Lucille Stellitano Gaykowski and the late John M. Gaykowski, Tom was born in New York City, New York on June 19, 1961 and grew up first in Cranford, New Jersey and then Maplewood, New Jersey. In his adult years he lived in South Orange, West Orange and then East Orange, New Jersey where he resided for the last twenty years.

Tom’s mother died when he was only one year old. He grew up with his loving father, stepmother Claire Pangiochi Gaykowski, two sisters and five brothers. He graduated from Columbia High School in Maplewood, New Jersey in 1979, and took some classes at County College of Morris and Montclair State College. In high school he played lacrosse and in his senior year the team won the state championship.

As a teen, Tom began to have difficulties and signs of mental illness. His father John dedicated himself to Tom’s well-being and mental health advocacy with the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. His brother Michael was there for him through it all, guiding Tom and helping him cope with many life struggles. Following through with simple life skills was a struggle and tasks like driving, attending college, and living independently soon proved to be too much. Tom went to counseling, took medications, and survived the best he could. Tom was appreciated and loved at Essecare in East Orange, a social services day program that gave him structure to his day and many counseling and social services with social workers and other professionals. 

His father John’s advocacy was key to the building of Essex County Hospital Center in Cedar Grove, New Jersey, where the courtyard is named for John in tribute to his decades of work advocating for people with mental illnesses. And particularly, as a memorial to a parent’s love for a child. 

In later life Tom preferred to be called Thomas. He loved his family and enjoyed going to family gatherings and holiday meals, going out to Spirito’s restaurant, and getting a cup of coffee or lunch at East Orange hamburger restaurants. He had a great memory for details. Tom would often recite his past interactions with people and enjoyed reviewing dates and events in his life with others. He was friendly, outgoing, and kind, sent thoughtful cards and letters, and always said amusing things. The simple joys he had in life included the music of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, Mets baseball, and going out to a diner for French toast. 

As a kid he enjoyed many childhood pastimes, including swimming, bicycling, playing in the local park, baseball and football leagues and pick-up games, and a homemade backyard game called “the rock game.” He also enjoyed school and especially liked English and history. Tom was in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts in his father’s troop with some of his brothers. He went crabbing in Barnegat Bay in a wooden rowboat with his father and siblings. Tom would often accompany his parents visiting family members and attending sporting events. His travels to see family included trips to Florida and Michigan. In the last weeks of his life, he began talking about the past often and started writing some of his reminisces in a journal.

Tom was predeceased by his parents, stepmother, grandparents Lucy and Joseph Stellitano and Mary and John Gaykowski and stepbrother James Pangiochi.

Tom is survived by his siblings, LuAnne G. Kozma and her husband, Ellis Boal, of Charlevoix, Michigan, Michael J. Gaykowski formerly of Annandale, New Jersey and now of North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and Paul M. Gaykowski and his wife, Jennifer Spiegler of Maplewood, New Jersey; his step-siblings Donna Romeo and her husband, Louis of Summerville, South Carolina, Joseph Pangiochi and his wife, Eunice of Woodbridge, New Jersey, and Stephen Pangiochi; and by his nieces and nephews, Michael J. Gaykowski Jr. and his wife Sarah Gray, Gregory S. Kozma and his partner Linh Tran, Natalie M. Kozma, Michelle L. Gaykowski, Michael Romeo, Louis Romeo, James Romeo, Victoria Pangiochi, and Nicole Pangiochi. He is also survived by aunts Doris Gamache and Agnes Roenbeck, and cousins.

The Governor of New Jersey declared May 2021 as Mental Health Month and said “Every citizen and community can make a difference in helping end the silence and stigma that for too long has surrounded mental illness and discouraged individuals from accessing help.”

In lieu of flowers, donations “In Memory of Thomas J. and John M. Gaykowski” may be made to the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill of New Jersey (online or by check, see: http://www.naminj.org/donation/donate )

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