Memorial services offer contrasts, commonality
Dr. Thomas Enloe and Amit Tandon had little in common—except the most important things in life
On Saturday, Aug. 9, at 2 p.m. separate memorial services began in Chico for two men who died recently. One was old, the other young. One had grown up here, the other was an immigrant. One died peacefully after an illness, the other violently in a highway crash.
The two men didn’t know each other, and the fact that their services were held at the same time was coincidental. But it was a coincidence that seemed to have larger meaning, to have what psychologist Carl Jung called “synchronicity.” As different as they were, the two services, and the two men they honored and mourned, spoke volumes about Chico and how, when it comes to sharing love and grief, nothing ever really changes.
One service, held at the Enloe Conference Center, was for Dr. Thomas S. Enloe Sr., who died July 13, at the age of 85, from lung cancer. He was the son of Dr. N. T. Enloe, the founder of Enloe Medical Center, and an important community figure in his own right. Attending the service was a who’s who of Old Chico, people with names like Morehead and McGowan, Mulkey and Copeland and, of course, Enloe. The mood was subdued but celebratory, sad at times but not mournful—after all, this was a man who’d died peacefully after a long and fruitful life.
Tom Enloe was a pivotal figure in the history of the hospital that bears his name. It was he who, in the mid-1960s, led the effort to change it from a private business owned by his family into a community-run nonprofit. He selected the members of its first Board of Trustees and in 1967 hired its first CEO, Jim Sweeney.
He was also a founding trustee of the Butte Community College District and, for some years, Butte County’s public health director.
“Tommy Enloe hasn’t gotten the credit he deserves,” Sweeney, a genial man who ran the hospital for 28 years, said as people filed into the conference center. He seemed to know them all, and frequently broke off from conversation to exchange hugs. After N. T. Enloe’s death, Sweeney explained, the son ran the hospital while maintaining his practice as an orthopedic surgeon. Tom Enloe wanted the hospital to grow, and he knew that couldn’t happen if it remained a family business.
The hospital was meant to serve the needy, Sweeney said, and be a community hospital first and foremost—which is why it published its profit-and-loss statement every year. Tom Enloe would do whatever it took to help the hospital function. When it lacked a printer for in-house publications, for example, he bought one and set it up in his home basement. And later the family chipped in and purchased one of the first radiation-therapy machines in the North State, creating the Dorothy S. Enloe Radiation Therapy Center, named after the founder’s wife.
Others remembered Tom Enloe as a doctor with a big heart. Sherrie Greenfield, who later became an Enloe nurse, recounted how he’d done surgery to correct her congenital knee problems. Her mother was a single mom, and Enloe charged very little for the work. “He made my teenage and early adult years tolerable,” she said.
And Jan Ellis, for many years Enloe’s director of nursing, recounted how, at the age of 14, she broke her leg in a farm accident and was treated by Dr. Enloe. “That’s when I decided I wanted to become a nurse,” she said. “I graduated on a Friday, got married on Saturday, and started working on Monday"—the beginning of a 37-year career at Enloe.
Most of all, though, what emerged during the service was a portrait of a man who was as devoted to his family as he was to his hospital and community. As photos of family activities played on a big screen behind them, his four children and two sisters spoke of a warm-hearted, loving man who, after decades of doing good work for others, spent many years with his wife, Barbara, who died in 2005, on their ocean-going sailboat, exploring the South Pacific.
Amit Tandon’s death came out of nowhere at 9 o’clock on Wednesday night, Aug. 6, in the form of a large, out-of-control pickup truck that blasted through the intersection of Highway 99 and The Esplanade just as Tandon happened to be driving home from Red Bluff. The head-on crash killed him instantly.
A Chico man, Troy L. Hovey, 36, was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving and felony manslaughter. He suffered only minor injuries.
Tandon was just 32 years old. He and his wife, Deepika, had been married for a little more than a year and were expecting their first child in December. The shock and pain of his sudden death was almost palpable among the 100 or so people who attended his service at the Brusie Funeral Home. Many were wiping away tears, and several who came to the podium to speak were barely able to get words out. A sobbing Deepika Tandon sat in front, where she was comforted by family members.
A popular vendor at the Thursday Night Market and the Saturday Farmers Market, Tandon owned Guzzetti Catering and Indian Food, a company he purchased from former City Councilman Dave Guzzetti. The business was doing well, and Tandon was becoming widely known and respected in the community.
Guzzetti, who is recovering from his own tragedy, the loss of his home in the Concow fire, was present at Tandon’s service. The Brusie chapel was filled with flowers, and a beaming Tandon looked out from a large photo in the front of the room.
“My image of Amit is his smile and his love, and I know he is warming the heavens up,” Guzzetti said. He told how, when he sold Tandon the shop, the new owner said to him, “It would be an honor to keep your name on the business.”
Tandon had gone to India to find his wife, Guzzetti said, and convinced her family to let him bring her to this “crazy country. … He was so proud of and in love with [her]. We saw them kissing as much as talking, maybe more.”
Many speakers consoled the family with prayers and thoughts from Indian religious tradition. One older gentleman in white linen and a beautiful blue turban said, “We in India believe that we are born with a destiny.” Like several others, he said it was Amit’s time, as painfully early as it was.
“For the short amount of time he was in Chico, he touched many lives,” said a man who had known him through the markets. “Last Thursday and this Saturday there was a big vacuum in those places.”
Tandon’s brother spoke about how Amit’s hands were always overflowing—when he cooked, he cooked in abundance and was always generous in sharing the food. The brother then asked his daughter, Amit’s niece, to come forward. Every time her uncle would see her, the brother said, he would shower her with “hundreds of kisses.”
On the surface, Tom Enloe and Amit Tandon had little in common. Deeper down, though, they shared what is most important in life: the love of family, the respect of community, the desire to do good work in a spirit of generosity.
One represented a generation that built this community and its institutions; the other represented what Chico is on its way to becoming, a diverse, colorful, expansive collection of people from all over the world, sharing their traditions with enthusiasm and pride.
You can’t help but think that, had they met, Tom Enloe and Amit Tandon would have liked each other and been happy to know they were fellow Chicoans.
Sophie Speer contributed reporting to this account.