Thomas R. Preston (1936-2019) earned his BA at the University of Detroit and his MA and PhD at Rice University in Houston. In 1966, Tom was teaching English at Rice and, sharing an office with author Larry McMurtry, whose novels Lonesome Dove, Terms of Endearment, and The Last Picture Show were made into popular movies. Tom fondly recalled the time when Ken Kesey stopped by their office to visit McMurtry. Kesey was famous for his novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1962), made into a popular movie in1975. Not only did Tom associate with famous writers, but he was tolerant of minorities such as hippies and gays.
Tom achieved a long and distinguished career as an English professor in Pennsylvania, Florida, Louisiana, Wyoming, and Texas. He also served as a department chairman and a dean at several of the universities where he taught and was recognized nationwide by Marquis Who’s Who as a noteworthy educator and researcher. As a professor, he formed close ties and kept in touch with many of his former students until his death.
After Tom retired, he and his wife moved to Lake Howell near Tyler, where she died of cancer in 2006. At that point, he began to look for something to keep him busy, and a gay childhood friend encouraged him to join the fledgling East Texas PFLAG chapter. Then he read Troy Carlyle’s recent autobiography, The Remainder of My Life. Tom recalled, “I was so impressed and so moved I asked Troy to the house to have lunch.” The two of them formed a close friendship and eventually moved in together. In 2008, he and Troy, driven by “a sense of the injustice that’s happened to gay community,” spearheaded the local gay alliance named Project Tag.
Not only was Tom supportive of Troy’s book, The Remainder of My Life, but he also supported the ones written by TAG members Lou Anne Smoot—A Christian Coming Out (2013), revised as in 2016 as Out, A Christian Woman’s Journey, as well as Dr. Shelley Thrasher’s novels (The Storm, 2012; First Tango in Paris, 2014; Autumn Spring, 2015) and her book of poetry (In and Out of Love, 2016). He brought copies for his children, praised the books any chance he got, helped with the editing, and wrote insightful reviews.
Tom was Catholic and went to Catholic schools as a youngster. He left organized religion behind but always remained interested in the subject. He was a good Christian because he lived the best parts of the Bible every day. He also was read widely about other religions, collecting statues of the Buddha and hanging a metal Green Man face in the front entryway of his home.
Tom also loved animals, especially Rennie, his toy poodle. Rennie would lie on his back in Tom’s lap and let him rub his belly and beg Tom for bites of cheese.
Tom Preston’s contributions to and support of the gay community are numerous. He has definitely made a lasting and significant contribution to many people in the Tyler area, who will always remember him.