DADE CITY - The Pasco Middle School auditorium was filled Monday with family, friends, and former students who came to remember the life of local educator Tom Rulison Jr. of Dade City who died July 2 at the age of 66.
Rulison's memorial service was officiated by longtime friend Randall Belcher. The stage was decorated with wreaths and photos of Rulison. "This was Tom's choice as a place to have his service and it was truly an appropriate choice," Belcher said.
Most of the speakers elicited laughter as they spoke with fondness of Rulison's quirks and habits. His devotion to the Tampa Bay Rays was represented by a wreath with the Rays logo next to the podium.
Ray Gadd, Pasco's assistant superintendent, said that Rulison was motivated by a passion for teaching and was proud to be an educator.
"For Tom Rulison education was not a job or even a profession, he was one of those rare individuals for whom education was a calling," Gadd said.
Kit Broadbelt, a former school administrator and longtime friend, said he and Rulison, along with Belcher, regularly traveled together to see sports games and enjoyed exchanging jibes about whose team was the best.
Noting that Rulison was always well-dressed, Broadbelt told a story of how Rulison was selected as the winner of the best-dressed fan at a spring training Detroit game in Lakeland.
"You would have thought he won the Nobel prize," he said. "He talked about that endlessly for a long time thereafter."
Broadbelt also said that Rulison was a good family man always making an extra effort to get back from trips to be on time for his children's sports games and activities.
"I don't think you would ever hear a bad word about Tom Rulison," Broadbelt said. "He was a good and honest man."
Tommy Rulison, Rulison's son, offered a tribute to his father, acknowledging his interest in the activities of his brothers and sisters. Rulison's children, along with other family members, gathered on the stage to read messages sent to them by friends and former students who praised Rulison as a teacher, principal and mentor.
Laurie Johnson, assistant principal of Raymond B. Stewart Middle School, gave a tribute of Rulison, noting that relationships meant more to him than accolades and awards.
"Tom knew relationships were more important than fame," she said. "He believed in putting people first. He knew that when your priorities were right all the other things fell into place."