On Sunday, April 11, Tom Mann passed away after a courageous five-month battle with melanoma. He would have been 63 on May 9. Mark Erickson, his friend and business associate at Erickson Outdoors, told SNEWS® that during an office meeting in October 2009, Mann appeared to be having a stroke and was rushed to the hospital.
“Following a CAT scan, it turned out melanoma had taken hold in his brain to such an extent that the doctor quietly told me he could not remember a case this advanced where the patient was still walking and functioning,” said Erickson.
It was Mann’s second go around with the cancer. He had a bout with it two years prior, but everyone, including the doctors who had given Mann a clean bill of health, thought he was in the clear following the removal of a small lesion on his head.
“My friend never came back to work after the news in October,” Erickson told us. “He fought it until the very end and was not willing to accept the inevitability the cancer would knock him down this time.”
Mann graduated from Northwestern University in 1969 and became a school teacher in inner-city Chicago, teaching math to elementary school students. Following a trip over a Christmas break to visit Erickson (they became fast friends while at Northwestern, Erickson told us), Mann decided that the warmer climate and California lifestyle suited him so he moved.
Erickson, who was working as a designer for The North Face, helped Mann find a job at TNF in 1972.
Mann held down a variety of jobs at TNF -- from tech rep, where he became well-known to a large national dealer network and made friends across the country, to product manager.
As a product manager, he was the one who pushed for a product that became known as the Mountain Jacket -- the seminal TNF Gore-Tex piece with classic color-blocking that became a company classic.
“I can remember clearly I was fighting him tooth and nail at the time,” Erickson told SNEWS. “We had plenty of rain jackets that were perfectly good, like the Grizzly Peak…why did we need another one? Tom kept insisting we had to do this and that the market was ready. From that incredibly successful jacket evolved numerous other successful product iterations with the same visual theme of yellow and black color blocking.”
Mann left TNF in 1986 to work for Bob Swanson and George Marks as a sales director for Walrus. And, in 1989, he joined Erickson and Erickson’s wife, Janice Fletcher, to form Erickson Outdoors where he held down the title of vice president of sales and marketing until his passing.
Those who were fortunate enough to have worked with Mann remember him fondly.
“Tom was a commanding presence, with a booming voice and infectious enthusiasm. He helped to build The North Face through his passion for the products, the dealers and the reps. His sense of humor and genuine interest in people will be missed by us all.” --Sally McCoy
“I’ll always remember Tom as this gentle giant with a great sense of humor and a real love for the outdoor business.” --Bob Woodward
“This is a tremendous loss. I worked with Tom for about 15 years at The North Face, and remained in touch with him up to now in his career at Erickson Outdoors. He was one of those ‘spirit of the company’ guys at North Face. He worked in many roles in sales and marketing, and always seemed to be up and at the center of what was going on. The role that stands out was that of the company’s first ‘Tech Rep’, travelling around the country to visit dealers, and to educate them on technical features of the product, fabrics, construction, etc, and to generally sell our commitment to quality. Tom was by far the best tech rep we ever had, and as a result was probably the most popular in-house person with the reps and dealers of all time. They, and I, will miss him in a big way. He was also a member of our North Face city league basketball team, and at 6 foot 5 inches could throw his butt around on the boards very well. He is definitely gone too soon." --Jack Gilbert
“Tom represented what was the best of the beginning of the backpack industry. Smart, fun, incredibly capable, passionate about sports and about his friends -- a gentle giant, physically and personally. He was one of those unique people who made the lives of those around him that much better and that much more enjoyable.” --Hap Klopp
“I really got to know him better when he, Mark and Jan set up Erickson Outdoors in the large Walrus warehouse in Berkeley where we shared space for a brief time until they moved into a better and more spacious location also in Berkeley. We would, of course, run into each other over the course of the next several years where we would exchange barbs and other funny remarks that were characteristic of our personalities when we were in the same room. All in all, I had a lot of respect for Tom and his work, especially in his overseas management for procuring product offshore. I am sure he will be missed at EO where he was a driving force.” --George Marks
Mann is survived by his wife Molly Locklin, with whom he shared life's joys for over 30 years, their beloved beagles, as well as a brother and nephew, both named Joe.
An informal celebration of Tom Mann's life has been scheduled for Saturday, May 8, from 2 to 5 p.m. at Erickson Outdoors. For more details and information, email Mark Erickson at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 510-236-4182, ext. 101.