Me and My Uncle: Nieces remember Tom Houle as the coolest guy around

  • Tom Houle was at the Chichester Grange Hall to support the candidacy of Richard Bouchard for selectman on Tuesday, March 10, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER

Monitor staff
Published: 6/17/2022 1:01:28 PM

Rebecca Richards of Gilmanton Iron Works said her uncle was “the epitome of cool.”

“He didn’t care what anyone thought about his decisions or how he lived his life,” Richards said by phone Thursday. “He lived what he was passionate about each day. I idolized him my whole life.”

His family and friends had similar thoughts, that Tom Houle was on the James Bond-level of cool. He certainly didn’t look much like 007, though.

He looked exactly like who he was, before his heart failed and he died suddenly in his sleep on May 27, at the age of 63. The vision of the man, so very distinct, won’t leave the town anytime soon. If at all.

The silver beard, long and wispy, partially covering a Grateful Dead T-shirt with one of their popular logos on it, sitting on his motorcycle, smiling, ready for his next adventure. Maybe a road trip to see the Dead, his favorite band. Or maybe a town meeting, where he was not shy to stand and make his presence and opinion felt.

As Richards explained, “He was not afraid to stand up against family or friends, become involved in healthy debate.”

His roots were in Chichester and stayed that way. Houle attended Pembroke Academy. He played baseball and basketball and pickup hockey games. He loved woodworking and gardening, and he loved the 4H Club as well. He showed pure-bred Yorkshire pigs and later added sheep to his stable.

By the time he graduated high school, Houle had turned his attention to Harley-Davidson bikes. In fact, at his high school graduation, he had a pair of Harley wings on his gown. His mother had his leather jacket on her lap during the ceremony.

He bonded with his father, Terry Houle, going target shooting with him on Sundays. He bonded with his mother, Margery Houle, over their love for the Red Sox.

Eventually, his allegiance to all things Harley-Davidson led Houle to open his own business in town, called Grateful Sleds. He repaired and restored Harleys and sold parts.

The store was more than a store, though. It marked a comfort zone that slowed the world down.

“To some, it was restoration and repair at first, but it would become much bigger,” Rev. Mike Lowry of the East Congregation United Church of Christ in Concord said during his eulogy.

“For countless others, it was a place to hang out, a 10-minute break from the deliveries of the day. Relax before heading home for a lonely or tough life. It was a refuge with snarky sarcasm, a place of acceptance and characters.”

The characters who stopped by the store were indeed colorful, like the tie-dye shirts so many customers wore during their weekly visits.

They said goodbye last Monday at Grateful Sleds, during a Celebration of Life and Memorial ride. By one count, more than 100 bikes showed up for the ceremony. From Father Lowry, we learned that Houle had many nicknames. Skip, Tommy, Tom Tom, Uncle John.

“No doubt there are a few others,” Rev. Lowry told the gathering.

The name that stuck, however, more than any other, was Houly. That’s what his inner circle called him, which was fine with Houle. Nothing fancy. Houly never liked fancy.

In her eulogy, Richards mentioned another of Houle’s nieces, Sarah Christie, who asked her uncle for a ride on his bike during her Sweet 16 party.

Houle obliged. 

“We went through the Lakes Region and I still think about it when I drive through the area now,” said Christie, who relayed her thoughts to Richards for her speech.

“When it stopped sprinkling, he pulled over. I’ll never forget when he turned around with a wide-eyed grin and said, ‘Hold on tight to me and don’t tell your mother.’ We zoomed so fast. He was always so cool, always kind and always made me feel welcome.”

Houle’s demeanor was tested during a school meeting in April of last year. Jason Weir, Houle’s childhood friend and longtime ally, refused to wear a mask during the meeting, something that had been agreed upon earlier in the month.

Alone in his stance, Weir explained that he worried about government overreach. He also said he was following the policy that had been announced earlier by Gov. Chris Sununu. Social distancing was recommended to counter the potential danger that could arise from not wearing a mask.

Houle challenged Weir’s stance. He stayed calm, never raising his voice. He rarely raised his voice during a disagreement. But he never backed down, either.

Call it a determined cool.

“He stood up for others no matter the controversy,” Rev. Lowry said. “In fact, those of us closest to Tom knew he rather loved the controversial part. He loved a good debate.”

Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.

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