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Lodi High speech and debate teacher, Thomas Montgomery, dead at age 53

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Posted: Friday, June 25, 2004 10:00 pm

His passion was speech, and for 27 years he dedicated his life to helping his students become successful through his speech and debate classes. Lodi High School lost one if its own Tuesday evening when Thomas Montgomery, 53, of Stockton, died suddenly of a heart attack.

Montgomery settled in Ripon with his family while he was in junior high. He attended schools there and then received a speech scholarship to the University of the Pacific. He double majored in communications and history and graduated with a bachelor of arts degree.

When Montgomery married his wife Shirley, he was working at the J.C. Penney Auto Center selling tires. Shirley's mother told her she thought Montgomery had a lot going for him, and asked her what he wanted to do in his life. Shirley said that she later asked him what he really wanted. He told her he wanted to be a speech teacher because he loved speech so much.

Twenty-seven years ago, he got his chance. After receiving his teaching credential from Stanislaus State University, Montgomery worked in two student teaching programs, one at Ripon High School and the other at Lodi High School. As he was working in the teaching programs, he filled a vacany for speech teacher that opened up at Lodi High.

He received two major awards during his career. He was inducted into the California State Speech Coach Hall of Fame in 1993, and in 2003 was entered into the National Forensic League Hall of Fame. Shirley said that it really meant a lot to him and he felt very honored.

Donovan Cummings, former speech coach at Stagg and Edison High Schools, nominated Montgomery for the National Forensic League Hall of Fame. He said Montgomery was very excited when he found out about the award, he was like a kid winning something that he had always wanted, and that he had worked so hard for.

Cummings and Montgomery coached against each other for 20 years, and through the years became good friends, and Montgomery had come to think of him as his mentor. Cummings said Montgomery was an outstanding coach and cared so much about his students. The kids were always able to go and talk to him and always had positive things to say.

Cummings always enjoyed his humor, and said that he could tell jokes more than once and always change them around a different way each time. "He could tell jokes better than anyone I know," he said. The two would also make sarcastic comments to one another in fun and other coaches would often think the two were arguing.

Bill Huyett, superintendent of the Lodi Unified School District, was shocked and saddened to hear about the passing of Montgomery.

"You don't think of somebody so energetic and vital passing so suddenly," he said.

Huyett said speech coaches spend a lot of time with the kids, and travel with them when they compete. He saw that Montgomery was someone who loved kids, was very dedicated, and spent a lot of time with them. He remembers seeing this at a speech tournament.

"I got a sense that this person was dedicated. I've never run into anyone that was so devoted," he said.

Huyett said Montgomery leaves big shoes to fill, and there is a real credit to Lodi High for what he leaves behind.

Shirley said that Montgomery also enjoyed reading and playing golf, but speech always came first. "He loved it to the very end," she said.

He is survived by his wife, Shirley, of Stockton; daughters, Andrea Cunningham, of Sacramento, and Meghan Bullington, of Stockton; and granddaughter, Kira Cunningham, of Sacramento.

A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Monday at St. John's Episcopal Church in Stockton. Committal will be private.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the National Forensic League, Tom Montgomery Scholarship Fund, P.O. Box 38, Ripon, WI 54971-0038.

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