Known to his family and friends as “Tommy,” the second-year student at Harvard Law School — an animal lover, committed vegan and moral philosophy devotee — recently found the pain of his illness “overwhelming and unyielding and unbearable,” his parents wrote.
“On the last hellish brutal day of that godawful miserable year of 2020,” their statement said, “when hundreds of thousands of Americans and millions of people all over the world died alone in bed in the darkness from an invisible killer disease ravaging their bodies and minds, we also lost our dear, dear, beloved son, Hannah and Tabitha’s beloved irreplaceable brother, a radiant light in this broken world.”
“He left us this farewell note on New Year’s Eve day: ‘Please forgive me. My illness won today. Please look after each other, the animals, and the global poor for me. All my love, Tommy.’ ”
A private funeral is planned for Tuesday, and the Raskin family announced last week that they had created the Tommy Raskin Memorial Fund for People and Animals, which was being set up through the Greater Washington Community Foundation.
On Monday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told Democratic lawmakers that President-elect Joe Biden — who lost his wife and young daughter in a car crash decades ago and his son Beau to cancer in 2015 — had spoken with Raskin to offer condolences.
The two-term congressman and his wife, a former top Treasury Department official, described their son’s life in glowing and vivid terms, from his youth in Takoma Park, Md. — “making mischief, kicking the soccer ball in the goal, acting out scenes from To Kill A Mockingbird with his little sister in his father’s constitutional law class” — to his final years in the classroom.
He spent last fall as a teaching assistant in a Harvard Law justice course, meeting with students on Zoom, “finding what was precious in their work and teasing it out,” the Raskins wrote. A devotee of the Effective Altruists, he donated half his teaching salary to help save people with malaria by purchasing mosquito nets with global charities. Once the course was finished, he made donations in each of his students’ names to Oxfam, GiveDirectly and other groups targeting global hunger.
“When I asked him why he did this, he quoted something that he loved which Father Daniel Berrigan said about Dorothy Day: ‘she lived as though the truth were true,’ ” the statement continued. “Tommy said: ‘I wanted them to see that the truth is true.’ ”
Thomas Bloom Raskin was born Jan. 30, 1995, and became the middle child between his older sister, Hannah, and younger sister, Tabitha. His parents described a vast array of interests and habits as he grew up: “playing jazz piano like a blues great from Bourbon Street”; “teaching other children the names of all the Justices on the Supreme Court”; “hugging strangers on the street.”
In high school he loved the debate team, where “he had to be constantly reminded by his teammates that the purpose of high school debate tournaments is to score points and not convince people of the truth or change the world,” his parents wrote.
“He hated cliques and social snobbery, never had a negative word for anyone but tyrants and despots, and opposed all malicious gossip, stopping all such gossipers with a trademark Tommy line — ‘forgive me, but it’s hard to be a human.’ ”
Tommy graduated from Amherst College, like his mother, before pursuing a law degree at Harvard Law School, following in the footsteps of both his parents.
“We have barely been able to scratch the surface here, but you have a sense of our son,” they wrote toward the end of the tribute, before describing his battle with depression.
“Despite very fine doctors and a loving family and friendship network of hundreds who adored him beyond words and whom he adored too, the pain became overwhelming and unyielding and unbearable at last for our dear boy, this young man of surpassing promise to our broken world.”
If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255). You can also text a crisis counselor by messaging the Crisis Text Line at 741741.