(Contributions for his children: Checks should be made to the Alex and Sonie Zilian Fund and sent to BankNewport, 2628 East Main Rd, Portsmouth, RI, 02871.)
Thomas Zilian, 46, of Portsmouth, RI, died unexpectedly at his home on April 2, 2019.
Tom was born into his military family in Wiesbaden, Germany, and attended high schools in Portsmouth and also Bonn, Germany. He earned a bachelor of fine arts degree (painting) from the Massachusetts College of Art. He founded and owned Madstone, a company specializing in creating fine finishes for concrete surfaces.
Tom loved many things: first and foremost, his family, and also camping and fishing with his two children, music, Italian food, chunky monkey ice cream, his mother’s cooking, Nicki’s warm and welcoming home, James’s unfailing support and devotion to Tom’s talent, and his father’s example. Art and painting were his passions.
Tom is survived by his fiancée Anna Lubiner, son Alex 10, daughter Sonie 13, mother Geri, father Fred, brother James, sister-in-law Zoe Zilian, sister Nicole Milici, and brother-in-law, Marc Milici; his nieces and nephews, Mary Jane, Sofia, Vincent, and Anthony Milici, and Ava and Mia Zilian. He is also survived by his ex-wife and mother of his children, Dorota Hapek.
Visiting hours at Connors Funeral Home, 55 W. Main Rd, Rte 114, Portsmouth, RI, 02871, 3-5 and 7-9 pm, Tuesday, April 9, and funeral mass at 10 am, Wednesday, April 10, at St. Barnabas Catholic Church 1697 East Main Rd, Portsmouth, RI .
In lieu of flowers, our family would prefer contributions to a fund established for his children. Checks should be made to Alex and Sonie Zilian and sent to BankNewport, 2628 East Main Rd, Portsmouth, RI, 02871.
(Note: I delivered this eulogy at the Mass of Christian Burial at St. Barnabas Church, Portsmouth, RI, on April 10, 2019.)
Even as little boy, we knew that Tom had a wonderful heart. I do not remember how old he was, perhaps five or six. Our young family was merrily rolling along in our car. We asked him whether he liked his mom’s casserole from the night before. He did not want to hurt his mother’s feelings, but down deep I guess he really didn’t like it. He fumbled with some words and then said: “Well, I like it, cept, cept I hate it.”
Thank you for this opportunity to address you. I would like to do this for you and for me, and also for Tom. In this holy house, I draw strength from God and from the steady and faithful pulse of your love I can feel by your presence and your faces, especially those of my grandchildren. My son is gone, but he lives on in so many ways, especially in Sonie & Alex.
Physically, Tom clearly had more of Geri’s side in him. His face, good nature and good heart reminded us all of her and my father-in-law, Jim Maida, “Pop,” as we called him. Some of you may remember him. And if you do, you know that this was a very good thing to be cut from the same cloth as my father-in-law, who never said an ill or evil word of anyone.
However, I will take some responsibility for his rich and vibrant sense of humor. I hope you got to know it. He loved reaching out to people, getting to know them, and having a laugh.
In the last few years, Tom was again back to his passion—painting fine art. I will give my wife and the Maida side credit for his vast artistic creativity, talent and passion; his steady and sure hand with a pencil and paint brush.
This talent was nurtured at the Massachusetts College of Art. In his last two years there his paintings became abstract. This was a challenge for me. Picture me standing in front of a large canvas with broad strokes of paint—brown, black, white, gray—and swatches of other stuff, perhaps a bit of burlap mixed in and raised up from the surface. Eventually I began to appreciate this type art. I might stand back, point to one corner of the painting, and say: “Tom, I think I see some tension and anger here.” “That’s it, dad,” he would say, “now you’re getting it.”
Tom could be a man of contradictions. Though a free-wheeling artist who loved unusual music from, say, Frank Zappa, he also loved physical order. No messes and misalignments. Like both his parents, he was more a hugger and lover, than one who confronts and fights; however, he could get fighting mad about principles, such as truth and social justice.
My friends & my family, we must be careful in looking for an explanation for his death. I hope that none of us are angry with God. There are no good answers here, and there is no future in being angry with God.
As he faced life’s challenges the last few years, my son launched on to a spiritual journey and found God. And God gave him strength to overcome. What a gift!
How he loved his two children, Alex and Sonie, sitting here, taking them camping and fishing, taking them to the Newport Creamery. Dorota, I thank you for bringing them into this world and for nurturing them. Geri and I pledge our support to help them grow in Tom’s image.
And how he loved his sister Nicole, his brother James, and brother-in-law, Marc, and all his nieces and nephews. We stood by him when he was troubled, and as he became healthier and stood ever stronger, yes, he aggravated us with his quirks and incessant ukulele playing, but also lifted us when we were in need.
Last September, Tom met Anna and his life soared. This is his journal entry for October 19: Brilliant, compassionate, thoughtful, conscientious, authentic, and open-minded are just a few words that come to mind when thinking of Anna. And I could go on and on about how she has integrity and is tenacious and silly and adorable and my perfect Love. During the first weeks of getting to know her, as these characteristics were revealed, I asked myself these two questions: How did she get like this? and, Why me?
Anna, now and forever, you shall be a part of our family. We are so happy and not surprised that Tom made you believe in miracles. The love that blossomed between you two was truly a miracle.
We will all miss Tom. I shall miss him coming into our house for breakfast—messy hair, leather jacket, and paint-splattered clothes. I would feed him oatmeal as we talked the issues of the day. Geri would make him a lunch, super-charged with food and love. I see him now in the next dimension, showing Saint Peter how to paint, with all the cadmium blue his heart desires.
Here is what I am going to do for my son. I am going to love my wife and family every day. Second, I will love my neighbors and friends. Even more now, shall I remember what the ancients said: “Be kind because people are engaged in great battles.” Third, I shall not take one day of life for granted. Lastly, I shall look at others who struggle with life’s challenges, not as inadequate, unredeemable human beings, but as real and genuine people who need other people who have the courage to care and who can show them the spiritual imperative.
The day Tom died, I turned to my book of daily prayer. The reading was from Psalm 37: Verse 37, and was entitled “Peace in Death”: But for the good man, the blameless, the upright, the man of peace—he has a wonderful future ahead. For the end of that man is peace.
Here is the poem which accompanied the verse:
How bless’d the righteous when he dies,
When sinks a weary soul to rest!
How mildly beam the closing eyes!
How gently heaves the expiring breast!
Life’s labor done, as sinks the clay,
Light from the load the spirit flies;
While heaven and earth combine to say,
“How bless’d the righteous when he dies!”