I first met Tom Abraham 50 years ago when I worked as a summer student (lab assistant) in General Foods Research Cobourg. I had the privilege to work closely with him for five more years as my food technology career got underway. Tom had a vital role in the transformation of a rookie chemist into a decent food scientist. Maybe *the* vital role.
Tom made his reputation at GF with the development and maintenance of Canadian Orange Tang – a different (and better product) and package than the jar-based US Tang.
However, he had an equally vital role as leader of the GF Research Taste Panel and custodian of the lab’s flavor library. Tom was quick to see my talent as a taster, my interest in learning more, and my insight into how important that was for a food scientist. I was soon invited to be trained in the GF Flavor and Texture Profile Method. This technical way of tasting was originally developed by consultants Arthur D Little and refined and improved by the scientists at General Foods Laboratories in Tarrytown NY. Once trained and tested I was invited to join the Taste Panel. We did everything from profiling new products to evaluating the competition.
A major role we had was to evaluate new flavors proposed to us by the flavor companies serving our market. Tom had us evaluate these products blind and give a rating. The highest ranked samples were placed in the flavor library, so if I needed say a peach flavor I could choose from the best. Tom being Tom he occasionally put in a zinger to keep us on our toes – like Naringin replacers.
Tom was funny. He had a devastating sense of humor and took no prisoners when it came to ego or status. Most people in the lab ended up with a nickname which wasn’t always flattering – Kiwi, Polish, Animal, Part Time, John Eskritti, Willard, Hairlip (he had a mustache.) Tom himself was The King – he loved Elvis. I had a couple of nicknames myself. First I was The Meddler because I got into civic politics on behalf of the Cobourg library. Later on, when I started going out with Maria I became Luigi.
Tom was a devoted family man to his wife Laura and their three sons. Maria was always impressed by how handsome these young men were. One of my best memories was being invited for dinner at Laura and Tom’s new place just outside Cobourg and later watching one of the Canada-Russia Super Series hockey games. A quick Google Search shows that to be September 24, 1972.
Later on, when I worked in the flavor industry I called on Tom as a client and I was pleased to discover he had just as good a reputation for fairness and impartiality outside the company as he did inside it. We never used our friendship for any commercial advantage – always treated each other with respect and decency. My firm didn’t get all the business but I never felt that we were dealt with unfairly.
In the early 1990s we lost contact after General Foods was sold and they closed the Cobourg Research lab. The last time I talked in depth with Tom was after he accepted a position in Tarrytown. I understand his kids stayed in Canada and pursued professional careers here. Tom and Laura ended up in Florida after he retired.
It was a pleasure for me to discover Tom’s son Stephen on Facebook earlier this year and through him to reconnect with Laura. Her first message. “So nice to hear from you again Ray – or should I say Luigi.” Some things never changed with Tom.
Tom and Laura were in Canada recently to attend their son Scott’s wedding. They returned safely to Florida. So it was shocking and saddening to hear yesterday that Tom has passed away.
RIP my old friend. This is one colleague who will never forget you.