Forty-Two Steps Ahead of the Law
By Levelle Carlson
This is the story of two very different people and how they came to be a couple in spite of the differences. Jeri was born in Pennsylvania and never moved to another town as a child. Tom, on the other hand, moved to forty-two different towns in ten different states before he was in the sixth grade. Yes, you read that correctly—forty-two! Tom was born in Shawnee, Oklahoma. His father was in the oil exploration business. Tom’s story—one of many he loves to regale listeners with—is that during the Christmas break from school in 1951 in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, his father asked the family if they wanted to make a required move to Casper, Wyoming now or wait until after Christmas. Tom was in the fourth grade and during the first day of the break he broke into the school gym to play basketball and got caught by a security guard and was told that he would have to report to the principle on the first day back at school. Well, Tom who liked to stay “ahead of the law” voted for a quick move to Casper.
Evidently, this sense of adventure continued throughout Tom’s life and also took Jeri into the adventures as well. Throughout his life Tom weathered many storms and difficult times. Starting in his teens and through college Tom worked on oil exploration boats in the Gulf of Mexico and confronted his first big hurricane (weathered two during his maritime career). Three shrimp boats that were a few hundred yards from Tom's boat were in trouble and radioed the Galveston Marine Operator to ask for rescue from the boat Tom was on because they realized that they could not make it back to port on their own. Unfortunately, there was so much thunder and lightning that Tom’s boat never got the message and all three shrimp boats were lost. Luckily, Tom’s boat did make it back safely. This adventure did not deter Tom from further adventures as a helicopter pilot in the Marines or as a Captain in the merchant marines.
After flying a few hundred combat missions in Vietnam, and being shot down four times, Tom was an instructor pilot on the East coast where he was allowed to fly anywhere in the country on weekends, as long as he took a student as the copilot and called the flight a cross country navigation training flight. One fascinating story was a flight to Oklahoma to visit his grandmother. While flying to Oklahoma, Tom decided to fly over his grandmother’s ranch at Shawnee to see if she was visible. And, there she was—working in the pasture. Tom landed about 100 feet from her. Although his grandmother was a brave pioneer, the helicopter frightened her—possibly she had never seen one. She began to look around for a weapon but could only find a stick. Tom, who was still in his helmet and unrecognizable to his grandmother, pointed to his nametag that said Captain Tom Pack and Grandma flipped out. She spent the next two weeks on the phone calling everybody in the county.
What has not been mentioned yet about that flight is that Tom did not have enough fuel to get to Oklahoma and he had to stop at an army base in Alabama, which was half way, to refuel. After refueling he decided that he was too tired to continue, so he parked the chopper and got a room at the Bachelor Officer's Quarters. After getting cleaned up, he went into the officers club to eat dinner. When he walked in he saw only about 5 men and about 100 ladies. BINGO!! He said. He had stumbled into the Army's training base for women officers. All of these girls were about 21 years old and all had just graduated from college a few weeks prior. One of these ladies was Jeri. When asked how he chose Jeri out of all the ladies he responded, “I just knew that the smartest and prettiest lady would pick me.” Jeri’s response was that the Marines were more exciting than the Army and, being a pilot, made Tom that much more interesting. The rest of the story is that Jeri became the nomad wife of the nomad Tom and joined him in his many adventures—too many places to count, Algeria and Brazil and Puerto Rico among the many—and too many careers to count.
After leaving the Marines Tom became a Merchant Marine Captain and was living in Houston. In the meantime, Jeri completed her military career at Killeen, Texas. After her military career Jeri enjoyed several interesting jobs. Although her degree was in Physical Education and Health—maybe says something about her great golfing seen on the BCCC golf course—she held several leadership positions. From there they continued their nomadic experience to many places. While living in Jasper, Texas they bought a sailboat for their sailing enjoyment on Lake Sam Rayburn. This was not a boat for the ocean. However, they did travel and sail from many ports in rented boats that were built for the seas. Some of Jeri’s favorites are the Exuma Islands in the Bahamas. These sailing experiences planted a seed of more adventures.
These seeds have now grown into a full project. Since their retirement and move to Georgetown they are collaborating with one of their two sons and are adding ‘boat-builder’ to their resume. They have a warehouse in Hutto, where they are building a 32-foot catamaran racer/cruiser designed by John Shuttleworth. This boat is built to be the lightest (built of foam and fiberglass and, therefore, super fast). The boat will weigh only about 4,000 pounds compared to those built for luxury (about 30,000 pounds). This boat is also built to weather storms better than others as it is wider, which creates more stability than usual. Once it is completed, their son, Willie, who was on the offshore sailing team at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, hopes to show it in the largest boat show in the U.S. in hopes of building the same design for others. And, they plan to sail it across the Atlantic. However, Jeri says she may fly to England to meet the boys when they dock.
Tom and Jeri do have a life outside of the boat arena. They have time for golf—some good golf. Jeri is president of the Berry Creek Ladies Golf Association and is a great golfer. And, Tom’s most recent accomplishment should not go unnoticed. He had a hole-in-one on number 8. And, they still have time for their family, two sons and six grandchildren.
For more details on boat building one can see the entire process on their website, www.packsail.com. Here one can see the entire process of boat building in finely tuned production videos. And, there are pictures of the family working on the boat, including a picture of their grandson.