In memoriam: James Joseph Tomek

CLEVELAND – James Joseph Tomek, 76, passed away Aug. 30, 2022, at Baptist Memorial Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. The youngest of three children, he was born in Hoboken, New Jersey, to Joseph and Anne Tomek. Raised in Ridgefield Park, New Jersey, his parents afforded him a private school Jesuit education, sending him to St. Cecilia High School and St. Peters College in Jersey City. His love of literature drew him to study at Duke University where he received a Ph.D in French literature and philosophy. His specialty was 20th Century and his dissertation on the films of Jean Cocteau was directed by Dr. Wallace Fowlie. During that time, he met and married Yvonne Bryan Tomek in Durham, North Carolina, and then embarked upon a career of teaching French and English at Delta State University in Cleveland, Mississippi in 1972 and served until his retirement in 2015.

At Delta State, he was the recipient of the University Foundation Teaching Award and also Teacher of the Year Award in the Division of Languages and Literature and was awarded membership into ODK, a Leadership Honor Society. He received grants to study French literature at summer long NEH Colloquiums in Stony Brook, Dartmouth, Iowa City and Chicago. Writing and delivering numerous papers at national conferences was of interest to him, and he collaborated in writing the books, Windows After Matisse with Terry Everett and Mary Anne Rosse and Fast French with Anne-Marie Bryan and Yvonne Bryan Tomek, a grammar book that he used for several years in his teaching. A philosopher, sports enthusiast, and poet, he often contributed to the literary journal, Tapestry, enjoying the fellowship of annual Fall unveilings and readings in Dockery, Mississippi.

Having always been interested in theology, he decided to pursue a Master’s Degree in Theology from Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama, while still teaching French and English. He would attend classes in Jackson, Mississippi every Saturday for six years, while arduously contending with a battle of cancer. He graduated in 2009, receiving highest honors in his Oral Exams, which were open to the public for attendance. He was a devout life-long Catholic, and often attended daily Mass and served as lector and assistant in the RCIA program for incoming Catholics at Our Lady of Victories Church in Cleveland. He often led Little Rock Bible studies for those who wished to study the Bible in depth. He was a life-time member of the Knights of Columbus.

In 2010, he was invited by the Bishop Latino to lead Sacred Heart Church in Rosedale, as the Lay Ecclesial Minister every Sunday morning, where he would deliver scriptural breakout reflections, administer Communion and handle business affairs of the church. He enjoyed this mission very much as well as the relationship he made with the parishioners. With fondness for movies, harking back to his dissertation days, he wrote a column for Mississippi Catholic newspaper, entitled “Theology at the Movies” that explored religion as it is evidenced in international movies.

His greatest joys were with his family and friends with whom he loved to play golf, tennis, baseball, go swimming, play cards and watch sports. He was particularly fond of watching New York Yankees baseball, reminding himself of the many afternoons he attended Yankee Stadium during his youth with his family. If he had not had a career in literature, he could have very well loved being a professional baseball announcer.

He lamented having outlived many of his best friends which included Bill Sullivan, Terry Everett, Martin Bond, Ted Solomon, John Tatum, Leroy Morganti, Diane Stewart, Bonnie Horton and his trusted lawyer, Robert Johnston.

His is preceded in death by his parents; his sister Barbara Tomek Maffei; his brother, Joseph Tomek; and nephew Thomas Tomek.

He is survived by his wife of 50 years, Yvonne Bryan Tomek; son Matthew Tomek (Renee) of Memphis; daughter Genevieve Tomek of Cleveland, Mississippi; and his grandsons, Jacob Jones and Renny McKnight of Cleveland, Mississippi.

He also leaves behind his sister-in-law, Jean Tomek, his brother-in-law Stephen Maffei, as well as his nephews and nieces, Richard Tomek (Sherri), Laura Tomek Campbell (Doug); Nancy Tomek Deasey (Bob); Stephen Maffei (Janet), Matthew Maffei (Lori), Joseph Maffei (Stephanie), and their beloved children.
In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made in his name to Our Lady of Victories Catholic Church in Cleveland.