By Rhonda Bodfield –
2016 FATHER OF THE YEAR HONOREE
Unconditional Love – Trust Serves as Foundation for Fatherhood for Tom Warne
By the time Tom Warne was in fourth grade, he was waking himself up to deliver newspapers, shovel snow on his route and make his breakfast before heading off to school.
His father, a professional engineer with integrity and a strong work ethic, caught a bus at dawn to get into New York from New Jersey, and attended school at night. His mother, a surgical nurse, was at the hospital early.
There were the occasional father-son excursions to Yankee Stadium and holiday gatherings with extended family. But as much as he appreciated his father as a provider and role model, there were few occasions that stamped themselves in his memory.
He knew things were going to be different for his own family – even though his first child, William, came shortly after he graduated from the University of Arizona, and his second child, Lisa, came just about the nerve-wracking time when he was starting his own company.
Warne, a commercial real estate developer perhaps best known for developing Main Gate Center adjacent to the UA, had three goals in raising his children, four altogether – set a good example, be their friend and be there for them.
That meant family ski trips and outings on horseback, as well as dutiful attendance at swim meets and school sporting events – even if it meant a grueling weekly travel schedule to the Pacific Northwest.
By the time William and Lisa were adults, his two youngest daughters from his second marriage, Jennifer, now 27, and Emily, 24, were growing up in Seattle.
For 14 years, he was on a plane winging to Seattle. “It was a blur,” recalled Warne, president of MSW Development Services. Except for nights of community board service, he worked until 8:30 p.m. every night Monday through Thursday to cram his work into an abbreviated week, so he could be on a plane and be in Seattle for Shabbat dinner Friday evenings and spend the weekend with Jennifer and Emily.
Back on the plane Sunday night, airport staff and flight attendants knew what he wanted without him needing to ask.
Tragedy, though, can visit the most vigilant and loving parent.
As a child, William was sexually abused by a camp counselor. The bright boy, who played football and came in first place in the state for his sixth-grade science fair project, changed dramatically, becoming withdrawn and building walls that even professional help couldn’t breach. Later, he would develop substance abuse issues and was diagnosed as having extreme type 1 diabetes. He passed away at 40.
That was a difficult time for Warne and Lisa, who also lost her mother and grandfather in a short time. The bond between the two became ever stronger.
Warne remains close with all three of his daughters, all competitive, high achievers. Lisa, his second child, is a teacher outside of San Francisco, pursuing her doctorate in education. Jennifer is a lawyer at a prestigious Wall Street firm in Manhattan. Emily just graduated from the selective School of Art Institute in Chicago.
He has modeled community service to his children, having devoted time to nonprofit organizations, including the Tucson Jewish Community Center, where he served as board chair. He currently is board chair of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona
Pressed for parenting tips, Warne said he learned some lessons along the way:
• Set a few strict boundaries and then give children the latitude to operate within them
• Don’t be judgmental or get caught up in negative minutiae
• Assure them of unconditional love
• Celebrate success, be positive and encourage individual interests
“One thing I learned is that if you want to build trust, you need to demonstrate honesty, integrity and respect,” he said. “If you have those three things, your children will come to you and be open and share what they’re experiencing with you.”
Warne said he is deeply honored to be recognized by Father’s Day Council Tucson, counting several past recipients as friends. And he is touched by the cause, he said, because William was diagnosed at 21 with diabetes. “It really touches my heart,” he said.
Warne’s emotional partner, Ann Lovell, has six children herself. Six of their brood of nine took a trip with them to Italy last year. This year, the whole gang is going to Hawaii for a week.
“My goal was always to raise my children to be independent and strong. That was particularly important for the girls, because I don’t believe society has reached gender equality yet.”
He has enjoyed the journey – well, maybe not all those plane rides, he joked.
“Fatherhood is very rewarding. You love your kids and you feel good raising them, but the real reward is the result, when you see them happy and strong and choosing their own lives.”