The door of Tom Malloy’s Glen Head lawnmower shop was always open. For decades, people could walk in and out as they pleased, to observe or chat, while he worked on one art project or another, wearing his signature denim overall. His sculptures were nearly as amazing as he was, his friends and family said.
Malloy died of cancer on Nov. 21, at age 77.
He was born on March 2, 1943, in Glen Cove, the third of James and Frances Malloy’s four children. His family moved to Glen Head when he was 4, and he lived there the rest of his life.
Byron Nernoff said he grew up across the street from Malloy, and the two were lifelong best friends, very much like brothers. They were known as mischief-makers as children, Nernoff said, which got them into trouble more than once.
Nernoff recalled the two of them finding a tree with green berries growing from it, perfectly sized ammunition for their plastic straw peashooters. They pocketed a supply of the berries, but when they grew itchy after a few days, they realized they had taken them from a poison sumac tree. The two were bedridden for a week, Nernoff said, but still passed toys and drawings packed in an onion bag back and forth on a clothesline strung between their houses.
“Tommy was a very, very well-liked person,” Nernoff said. “He was very kind-hearted. He would do a lot of favors for people. We got along great.”
After graduating from North Shore High School in 1961, Malloy worked at various welding and mechanical jobs on many of the North Shore’s grandest estates, where he became friendly with some of the area’s wealthiest and most influential figures. In the early 1970s he opened his shop, Tom’s Lawnmower Service and Welding, at 30 Railroad Ave. in Glen Head, which he owned and operated until his death.
He never married or had children, but his niece Georgia Filasky said he made the North Shore community his family. Everybody who knew her uncle loved him, she said, and his friends were dear to him.
“He was just a very kind person,” Filasky said, “and he really believed that if you were good to your friends and neighbors, they’d be good to you.”
Most people knew Malloy for his artwork. His shop doubled as a studio in which he molded and welded metal, mostly bits of recycled scrap, into sculptures of all shapes and sizes, much of which was indicative of his love of nature. His grandniece Chase Filasky said that he loved the simplicity in life, and could bring out the beauty in anything he got his hands on.
“It just more or less inspired people to look at things differently and live more simply . . . to look at everything differently and not what something is, but what it could be,” Chase said.
This love for the simple things was a huge part of Malloy’s appeal, Nernoff said. “Tommy was the kind of guy that did not want to grow up,” he said. “He didn’t have a computer; technology wasn’t his bag. He had an antique cellphone . . . He lived in the past. That’s what people liked about him.”
Over the years, Malloy crafted hundreds of pieces that could be found across the North Shore. He created the 9/11 Memorial at the Glen Cove Fire Department and a full gallery at the Fish Hatchery in Cold Spring Harbor, as well as pieces that are now on display in the Sea Cliff Village Library and several local businesses and restaurants.
He gave his artwork to his friends, including a metal squirrel for the grandchildren of his favorite art teacher. His niece said he did everything out of the love he had for the people around him, because he wanted them to know just how much they all meant to him.
“It’s not even about the art,” Georgia Filasky said, “it’s about giving anybody the validation that they’re important. That’s what made him so well-loved.”
Photographer and Sea Cliff resident Geri Reichgut said she got to know Malloy when a friend of hers told her about his artwork. She was struck by his kind nature, she said, and when she saw the beautiful sculptures he made, she knew she had to bring them out into the world.
“He was the most likable, lovable, amazing, kind man,” Reichgut said. “He was a wealth of historical information, growing up and living in the same town that he was born in, so as a photographer, how could I resist photographing him?”
As the coronavirus pandemic spread, Reichgut said, Malloy was in the process of getting his shop organized so he could set up a display of his pieces outside. Everybody in the neighborhood knew his artwork, she said, and he wanted people to be able to safely see it when they could no longer go inside the shop.
He was not only an incredible artist, Reichgut said, but also an asset to the community. “He was just beloved by everyone just because of the way he was,” she said. “He always had a smile for everybody, his door was open, people came by and he had that personality that you just wanted to be around him because he was so genuine and so creative and so giving of his time.”
Despite his deteriorating health this year, Filasky said Malloy rarely stopped talking about the community he loved so much. As they drove home through Roslyn Harbor from St. Francis Hospital in Manhasset earlier this fall, she recalled, he pointed out virtually every sprawling estate along the way, and told her about the lavish parties he attended.
Even as an everyman guest of some of the North Shore’s wealthiest people, Filasky said, he was always the life of the party. No matter where he went, she said, people wanted to be around him.
A graviside service for Malloy will be held at Saint Patrick Cemetry, in Upper Brookville, this Saturday at 12:30 p.m.