Leipzig and back

A friendship spanning decades culminates in one meaningful trip

The three strokes in the space of mere months worked him good. His right side was temporarily paralyzed and his speech was slurred. He also had over-active tear ducts, which, he said, were symptoms of the strokes, too. But they only produced tears when he spoke of Tiffany.

Tom Loftus, 79, has been, for the most part, a life-long Seattleite. While he moved around as a boy, he wound up at Port Angeles High School and excelled as a member of the debate team. His success piqued the desire to practice law, a notion he pursued at the University of Washington. After graduation, Loftus joined the U.S. Army as a second lieutenant at the close of the Korean conflict, arriving in Korea in 1953 a week after the signing of the armistice. He spent a year in Korea before returning stateside.

A good-looking man with a thick head of wavy, chestnut hair and a kind expression, Loftus, from 1954 through 1985, was a part of the 365th Civil Affairs Brigade in the Army's Judge Advocate General or JAG department located in Fort Lawton, two blocks from his home in Magnolia. His day job for 31 years was as government affairs council and assistant general council for the Unigard Insurance Group. He would spend the next 50 years practicing law for both the Army and Unigard, eventually becoming an honorary member of the Washington State Bar Association.

It would be several years before he would meet Tiffany, a 4-year-old girl with a big heart and a great capacity for love. Loftus, in the 1960s was a member of the Young Republicans and was on track to get married, when his fiancé, a known writer and a budding TV personality, suddenly died.

More than a decade later, Loftus met Tiffany's mother. The mother and daughter were living in Interbay when Loftus came into their lives. Though Loftus and the mother dated on and off for three years, the relationship with any staying power would be with the 4-year-old girl. He found her to be a delightful girl with a big, joyful spirit. And for every Christmas, he would buy her a Christmas dress, among other gifts. He got her a Christmas dress every year until she was 19.

Tiffany was loved, but her mother's job as a flight attendant, took her miles away at time. And while she was 35,000 feet in the sky, Tiffany stayed down on the ground with her grandparents. But Loftus made it a point to be there for her. He called her and sent her cards and gifts for her birthday and Christmas.

" I knew Tiffany had a tough time growing up under the circumstances. I knew the girl needed support, and I happened to be there," Loftus said, now sitting in the conference room at the Skyline at First Hill Retirement Community, and holding tight to a photo of Tiffany. It's a picture of her in her wedding dress, her four children standing by as she prepares to renew her vows with husband, Kurt Ibbotson. Tiffany met her husband, a pastor at a church in the Puget Sound area, more than 12 years ago.

Early in her relationship with Ibbotson, she learned the church had asked him to head up a program in Leipzig, Germany. But before they left, the two would be married in Issaquah. Since Tiffany's relationship with her biological father was estranged (he and Tiffany's mother divorced when Tiffany was 1), she gave Loftus a call.

"I felt that he deserved the honor of being recognized on Father's Day and giving me away at my wedding," Tiffany wrote in an email from her home in Leipzig. "He exemplifies all that a loving father could be."

That gesture absolutely touched Loftus. He led a normal life, dividing his days between a home in Leschi and Magnolia, and making annual trips to Hawaii. He continued with Unigard, with the Army Reserve as a staff judge advocate, and for seven years serving as a judge pro tem for the Seattle Municipal Court. But, having no children of his own, his heart was always with Tiffany.

"He was a constant support in my life and unlike other men, took an actual interest in me like a father would a daughter," Tiffany recalled. "He always treated me like a lady-even at age 4. He made sure that he was there for every special event in my life ... Christmas, birthdays, and graduation. If I had had the choice, he would have been my father and it was often my wish as a child that he would adopt me."

But it would be Tiffany who would surprise Loftus with an amazing gesture.

Deep into last year's summer, Loftus suffered what would be the first of three strokes. The first left him partially paralyzed and he spent two tough weeks at Swedish Medical Center at First Hill. As he recovered, he wrote to Tiffany about the news. She grew concerned and admonished him for not telling her earlier.

But it appeared over, that is until Loftus was having brunch over this past Thanksgiving weekend at Palisade restaurant in Magnolia. His friends noticed his speech worsening and they drove him to the emergency room. That was stroke No. 2, and doctors had Loftus taking medication for it. But then on Jan. 5, upon his return from 10 days in Hawaii, the third and final stroke came and Loftus, who was internally bleeding at this point, spent the next several weeks at Swedish.

"She found me at Swedish and called me from Germany and chastised me," Loftus said of Tiffany. "She said, 'I have my airplane ticket for Monday morning and I'll be there on Tuesday.'"

When she arrived, he recalled her telling him, 'You were there for me when I needed you, and I'm going to be there for you.' Sitting in the Skyline conference room, Loftus looked away and added, "That really broke me up," the tears coming back again.

And sure enough, Tiffany, saying goodbye to her four children and husband in Leipzig, flew to Seattle where she would be for the next five weeks. There, she fed him and kept him comfortable in his home along Magnolia Boulevard West. She was, in his words, an "Angel of Mercy."

"Tom is very sweet to call me an 'Angel of Mercy,' but honestly, I was just doing the right thing," Tiffany wrote. "I would rather not be called that. I am a regular person, like everyone else. For me it was just a privilege to be able to serve him in this way, and I`m not a good Samaritan, because that means helping someone who is not easy to love. Tom is very easy love and was a very sweet patient. I am so thankful that God allowed me to be there and I will always treasure the time I spent helping him recuperate."

Back in his room at Skyline, Loftus felt somewhat renewed. He had committed to a one-room apartment in the facility. His Magnolia home was just sold and closes in April. Now it was just him, some possessions and a blossoming sense of gratitude for a true friend.

"I have to give Tiffany credit," Loftus said. "The tender loving care she gave me brought me pretty much back."[[In-content Ad]]