Thomas H. Clift III, 74, passed peacefully into the arms of our lord, Tuesday, October 5, 2021 in Stamford, Conn., making it to heaven just before midnight. He always wanted to visit heaven he said in childhood prayers kneeling next to his bunk bed with his precious grandma “Mere,” by his side. Later in life he continued that reverence as a part-time preacher in Rockford area churches. The oldest of six siblings, he now joins his loving parents in paradise, Thomas H. Clift, Jr. and Marylou (Cain) Clift, who predeceased him.
Tommy, as he was known to distinguish him from his father, was a member of Court Street Methodist Church, and later First Assembly Church of God in Rockford. At an early age he took to water and swam like a fish. He loved the feeling of freedom and the fanciness of flight. Some say he learned it with multiple trips on vacation to Northern Wisconsin. He spent his life around water, even bleaching his hair beach bum blonde. He lived for the surf, sun, sand and trips to Grand Haven, MI. Florida and Connecticut. He loved going fast and gave neighborhood kids rides on his white, mini-Honda scooter as a teenager. In his senior year of high school, he bought a 1957 Chevy, painted it with 20 cans of leaded blue spray paint, making the car so heavy it got nearly -0- miles to the gallon. It was a convertible and drive-ins were his favorite parking spot. To his father’s chagrin and friend’s Mike, Bill, Bob and Tom’s delight, he ruined the garage floor.
He was an expert swimmer, diver and fisherman. Good enough to win trophies, medals and ribbons. He became a lifeguard at the 10th Avenue Pool in Rockford, where he met his first wife, Cheri (Chamberlain). They were married in September 1966 and had two children, Tina and Jeff. While his father Tom Jr. went after big game Muskies and Northern, Tom caught nearly the state record bass in 1973 on a secret, lake in Northern Wisconsin. The lake is sacred to his family and is where his ashes will be released next spring.
A graduate of Rockford West High School, he won the city diving championship. Friends say he could fly like an acrobat. He liked reaching for the sky so often, he joined the high school track team and pole vaulted into the record books. Coached by his father, Tom showed early promise. His father built him a run way along Ellis Ave. complete with sandpit, crossbars and pole box. Practices and meets were held at the home, often as police and neighbors pulled up to see Tom and his friends compete. Entire track meets were held at the home with scores of friends and teammates. They chased each other, chased records and ran like the wind, as fast as lightning, neighbors Dee and Dick Roberts used to say.
Always chasing the light, he turned his creativity to the visual arts. He and his father built a professional photo laboratory in the basement of their Cumberland St. home. He loved the magic of making prints. Tom added to his trophy chest as a professional photographer and film maker, working first in television at WREX, then WTVO, and finally at the Rockford Register Star as a staff photographer 1972-1977. That love of photography was passed to his younger brother, Bradley, who has used photography for many national and international awards. Tom’s tutelage assured his success. As he mentored Brad throughout
the 70’s. During this period, he met another West High graduate, Cynthia (Robinson) Lally, whom he married in Nov. 1980. Bradley was the best man and their first son, Adam Brandon Clift was born 9 months later. Five years later, in 1986, Charles Worthington Clift was born to the couple. Tom taught them fishing and athletics as well. They moved as a family to Connecticut in 1988. Tom continued to develop and master photography and other visual arts and took up sailing.
When Tom combined his growing love of music with photography, he created master works of art, moving congregations and audiences to tears with his slideshows of earth’s beauty. His photographs still hang in public and private collections. He worked at Aetna Insurance World Headquarters for five years having been recruited there, in Hartford in the early 90’s before retiring to Stamford, Ct. in the early 2000’s.
During later years, he returned to his love of water and fishing, trying to create the perfect bass lure. He even incorporated his invention, calling his new company, “Momma’s got Worms.” Lionel, a family friend said recently, “I don’t know about the name, but the bait sure worked!” Working another lure while living on a lake in Connecticut, Tom caught a trophy Large Mouth Bass. He was always alive and kicking next to the water, in the water, in the air. Now he’s in the air above us forever, said his friend. “Up high, where he always wanted to be.”
Leaving behind his siblings, Julie (Clift) Vaughn of Rockford, Nancy (Clift)Martin, Princeton, Ia. Bradley E. Clift, Westerly, RI, Martha (Clift) Tuneberg, Rockford and Susan Clift also of Rockford, Il. They all remember their older brother fondly as being creative, funny, unpredictable and talented.
He is survived by four children. Tina (Cornelius) Ray along with her husband, Mike Ray, of Catawba, South Carolina, Jeffery Cornelius of Laguna Beach, CA, Adam Clift along with his wife, Yesy Clift, of East Hartford, Ct. and Charles Clift along with his wife, Kelly Clift, of Granby, Ct. His surviving grandchildren are, Zachary Barton, Andrew Barton, Lilly Cornelius, Hunter Clift, Colton Clift, Daniel Clift, Khloe Clift and Giovanni Clift.
Tom also is survived by nine nieces and nephews; Jennifer Meyer, Jill Ramseth, Keith Sandberg, Renae Sandberg all of Rockford, Illinois and Zachary Tuneberg, Jamie Tuneberg, Brit Tuneberg and Jori Tuneberg also of Rockford Illinios. Finally, Spencer Clift of Westerly, Rhode Island.
Family and friends may call at the Nicholas F. Cognetta Funeral Home & Crematory, 104 Myrtle Avenue, Stamford on Saturday, October 16, 2021 from 12-4:00 PM with a service at 2:30 PM. Interment will be private.
In lieu of flowers or donations Tom and family would have wanted you to be fishing or swimming at sunrise or sunset, watching the beauty of nature and be in awe of life and reaching for the heavens, always looking up. “The rising tide lifts all boats,” he used to say.
To leave online condolences, please visit www.cognetta.com