The Washington Post
Good deeds honor Rep. Raskin’s son
Hundreds around globe seek to fulfill his final wishes by helping others
When Thomas “Tommy” Raskin died at 25 years old on New Year’s Eve, he left a farewell message for his family, including his parents, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD.) and his wife, Sarah Bloom Raskin:
“Please forgive me. My illness won today,” Tommy wrote, according to a poignant tribute written by his parents. “Please look after each other, the animals, and the global poor for me. All my love, Tommy.”
Although Tommy’s note was intended for his family, the broader community is heeding his words.
More than 950 people from at least 41 states, D.C., Puerto Rico and 11 countries outside the United States have signed up to fulfill Tommy’s final wish by doing good deeds, large and small, in his name. People are adding the deeds to a Google document, along with their names and where they live.
“Please consider doing one small act of compassion in Tommy’s honor,” reads the document, which also says the list of acts will be compiled and sent to Rep. Raskin’s staff.
Some people are making monthly donations to charitable funds and volunteering their time, while others are finding different or creative ways to live out Tommy’s wish: Donating toys to a hospital in Baltimore. Giving $1,000 to a co-worker who can’t pay her bills because of covid-19. Fostering a dog. Taking diapers and formula to a D.C. diaper bank. Writing letters to a friend going through a divorce. Collecting books and money for a children’s library in Sierra Leone.
Tommy, who was in his second year at Harvard Law School, is described by his parents in the tribute as having an “irrepressible love of freedom and strong libertarian impulses.” Throughout his life, Tommy dedicated himself to supporting others, whether through a peer-to-peer tutoring program he co-founded, donating half his teaching assistant salary to global charities, or simply by inviting dateless classmates to attend the high school prom as a group rather than alone.
“He hated cliques and social snobbery, never had a negative word for anyone but tyrants and despots, and opposed all malicious gossip,” the statement says. “He began to follow his own piercing moral and intellectual insights looking for answers to problems of injustice, poverty and war.” Tommy is also remembered for
his love of animals, becoming a “passionate vegan” who “recruited gently and lovingly — but supremely effectively — dozens and dozens of people, including his parents, to the practice of not eating animals,” the statement continues.
“We have barely been able to scratch the surface here,” his parents wrote, “but you have a sense of our son. Tommy Raskin had a perfect heart, a perfect soul, a riotously outrageous and relentless sense of humor, and a dazzling radiant mind.”
He also suffered from depression, his family said.
The statement, posted Jan. 4 by the two-term congressman and his wife, is flooded with condolences. Beyond the messages of support, though, people are also promising to act as Tommy did — with compassion to make the world better.
Kari Mcdonough, who created the “Acts of Goodness in Honor of Tommy Raskin” project, said she did not want to comment when The Washington Post contacted her, but on Facebook she wrote a public message urging people to get involved.
“No act is too small — whether that’s calling an old friend, or picking up trash along Sligo Creek,” she wrote.
Slowly but surely, the Google document started filling with names and acts of kindness. Jennifer Brown Schwartz was the first to put her name on the list. Beside it, she wrote, “We are dropping off food at the local food bank in his memory.”
Brown Schwartz, who lives in Granger, Ind., went to high school with Mcdonough, although she hasn’t spoken to her in years, she said. When she saw the Facebook post, she immediately decided to participate.
“As a parent, my heart breaks for the family,” Brown Schwartz, 50, said. “I hope these various acts of kindness will help, in some small way.”
“Although I do not know the family, their son sounded like a kind, thoughtful, caring individual,” she said. “As we say in the Jewish faith, ‘May his memory be a blessing.’ ”
Kim Musheno, 55, who lives in Silver Spring, vowed that she and her children will collect trash on Sligo Creek in honor of Tommy. She also donated to the Tommy Raskin Memorial Fund for People and Animals, created by the Raskin family.
“Representative Raskin is very available to his constituents,” Musheno said, adding that she felt compelled to reciprocate his constant support. “We all know him and worked to get him elected. His family has always been very supportive to us. He’s a neighbor.”
On the Google document, people are pledging to deliver homemade cookies to hospitals and check in with loved ones who are struggling during the pandemic.
A man from Takoma Park — where the Raskin family lives — vowed to donate his platelets to the Red Cross in Tommy’s honor, while another person wrote: “For Tommy’s family, I called an old college friend. She also lost a brother to suicide and we talked about him.”
Rep. Raskin called the idea “magical,” and “a gift” to his family and community.
“When I read about the remarkable good deeds these people are doing, I keep thinking about how much our dear Tommy would have loved the whole thing,” he said in an email. “Tommy committed simple acts of kindness and compassion whenever he could because he loved the way it made him feel to help other people and animals.”
Jill Ortman-fouse, 56 — who donated two bags of groceries to the Shepherd’s Table, a Maryland nonprofit organization — knows the Raskin family, having met them through her neighbors when Raskin first ran for the state Senate in 2007. She vouched for Tommy’s commitment to kindness.
“I never saw him without the biggest smile and sparkling eyes. He was so full of compassion and courage and grace,” Ortman-fouse said between tears. “So few people live with their heart open, and he probably took on a great deal of suffering because of that. He was carrying the suffering of other people along with his own.”
A private funeral was held for Tommy on Tuesday, the day before Capitol Hill descended into chaos when a pro-trump mob stormed the Capitol building.
“In the midst of all this suffering, Jamie Raskin was on the House floor. The day after his beloved son’s funeral, he was fighting to save our democracy and sheltering from a coup attempt,” OrtmanFouse said.
Amid the attack, from within the halls of Congress, Raskin said all he could think about was his family. Reeling from the loss of his son, he had taken one of his daughters and his son-in-law to the Capitol to watch the debates unfold over finalizing the results of the presidential election “because we wanted to be together,” he said.
Ortman-fouse said she is awed by Raskin’s strength in the face of tragedy. His son, she said, was much like his father that way.
“Tommy had this beautiful light shining inside him, and we cannot let that light go out,” she said. “It’s incumbent upon us to spread it even further. That is our duty.”
In the Raskins’ statement about their son, they described one of his acts of charity, and a conversation they had with him after:
“When I asked him why he did this, he quoted something that he loved which Father Daniel Berrigan said about Dorothy Day: ‘she lived as though the truth were true.’ Tommy said: ‘I wanted them to see that the truth is true.’ ”
If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255). You can also text a crisis counselor by messaging the Crisis Text Line at 741741.