I was humbled to be able to take part in the unveiling of an incredible statue honoring my father at the Florida Aquarium this week in Tampa. The Aquarium commissioned artist Yeins Gomez for the project and the result took my breath away... a beautiful metal bow-tie wearing Stork standing above his three little Storks calling to mind his three grandchildren. Mr. Gomez was able to capture so much of my father’s spirit and our Stork proudly stands outside near the Children’s play area of the Aquarium. So often when my dad talked to me about what they were working on at the Aquarium it wasn’t always the animals or conservation efforts he was most excited to talk about… it was the work they did to capture the attention of kids.
One of my father’s last projects at the aquarium, in addition to the remodeled children’s Splash Pad and the Carol J. and Barney Barnett Learning Center, was a partnership with the Havana National Aquarium in Cuba on coral research. Having Cuba’s Mr. Gomez put so much of his heart and attention into this sculpture would make my dad feel blessed for sure. He had plans to fly with his team on their first trip to Havana but was unable to make it down and as fate would have it I operated one of those Tampa/Havana flights with some of his team on board. Instead of my father making it to Havana, Yeins was able to bring a little bit of Cuba to him.
And a Stork! Obviously, this long-legged bird has played a huge role in our story. Growing up my dad had stationery made that read “From the Desk of Thom Stork” with a bird drawn into the S. We had NY’s Stork Club memorabilia scattered about our house. The front door of that home had big glass panels with Storks etched into the glass. As you can imagine, both my father and I (and now my son I hope) have always been called “Stork”. My dad told me he tried to get the license plate STORK once but it was taken by an OB/GYN.
My favorite part of the unveiling ceremony was after it concluded and I watched guests approach my Father’s statue and witness them take pictures with him and read the inscription on the bottom.
“A child reminds us that playtime is an essential part of our daily routine.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson.
My words of thanks .
Coincidentally, it was 14 years ago last night that my father spoke at my wedding to my wife Susan right here at the Florida Aquarium. Right over there.
It was from right here that he would call me every New Years Eve at midnight to wish me a great new year. This is where we honored his life on the night of his funeral. This is where he loved to take his grandchildren. When I visited town he would bring me by to show me the latest offerings. This is where he loved to interact with the families and the guests of the Aquarium. They were all his guests. He welcomed them in like he was bringing them into his own home.
I can’t think of a more perfect place for him to be honored. For this statue to be placed here where he gave so much of his heart. Our family has so many memories here and I’m certain we will have many more in the future.
This was his home and where his heart was and I am humbled to know that this is now where he will be remembered forever.
Even before this day and before this gift to him, and us, when I’ve come by, this is where I’ve most felt my father’s presence. I look down at the Aquarium every time I fly into Tampa and think about him. I am grateful that that feeling can be shared by all every time they see our big Stork here.
He loved us all and as I mentioned, he loved his grandkids. He cared so much for all the children who visited. He was always most proud when he told me about the work the Aquarium was doing with education, field trips and in the camps offered here. He would often tell me about the school groups that would come by. I love that this statue shows that. A proud Papa Stork standing over his three little birds. He kept us safe under his wing and like the little storks under his wings here he will stand and watch over all of them.
He will be here forever watching the kids when they are at their youngest as they play outside. And he will still be here as they grow and as those same kids mature and make their way to the exhibits inside. And then when they are older yet, when they come here for summer camp maybe they will come out here to say hello. He will still be here when they return to visit as they grow older. And then when they have children of their own they will tell their little birds about how they used to play out here with Papa Stork watching over them too. I love that he will always be remembered this way. More importantly, he would love that too. He really loved it here and he really loved all of us.
And personally, on my wedding night 14 years ago last night he spoke of sending me off with my wife to start our new life. I was stepping out from under his wings that kept me safe. With this statue, every time I fly out of Tampa I’ll be able to look down past the aircraft's wings and see him here protecting and watching over each generation.
From Donna, Ericka and me. My wife Susan and Brother -in- law Kemel. My father’s two sisters and my Unlce Doug. And of course from Tajai, Judah, and Imani. With all our hearts. Thank You so much for this gift. It really is an honor to be able to celebrate my father’s life like this.