Sitting in his office Tom Conroy is engrossed in his work. There are papers and books of all kinds covering his desk and shelves. Even though he is busy, he stops to make time for a student who needs help or just to talk. He is a quiet, reserved man, but his life has not been.
Few may know that the public relations professor was a helicopter medic in Vietnam from 1970-71, having been drafted within 90 days of graduating from Boston University.
“I was a political conservative who got more liberal as time went on, but by the time I was drafted I was completely against the war,” he said.
His unit would check for mosquitoes, spray, check for water pollution and, inspect mess halls. He also did volunteer work at a nearby orphanage.
That volunteer work has followed him throughout his career and he is still very heavily involved in the aspects of war today.
Conroy worked for Vietnam Veteran’s Social Service Agency in Providence, R.I. before coming to Castleton. He counseled vets in jobs and careers and wrote grants for the agency. He worked for groups like the Veteran’s Education Project, Vietnam Veterans of America and is currently involved with Veterans for Peace. He educates high school students about the war that the recruiters don’t tell them about.
“I just don’t understand why people go to war today. Many of them going in based on lies and misconceptions,” he said. “The only people who benefit are the ones who don’t go to war and make money on it. It’s a real capitalist kind of adventure.”
Conroy came to Castleton in 1992 as a public relations professor. He is well respected and genuinely seems to care about every aspect of a student’s life.
Bob Gershon, a colleague in the communication department, describes him as a model of what a professor should be.
“He is number one a teacher, that’s probably what he does best. He spends time not only on the subject matter and how students react to it, but he cares about what’s going on in their life beyond college,” he said.
Conroy understands that students aren’t just these beings who are there to soak up information in class and spew what they have learned back out. He is always on top of their situations, checking to see what courses they are going to need and directing them so they don’t get closed out of classes and can graduate on time.
He is a scholar in the practical sense. Everything he does has a purpose. He is interested in the impact the knowledge carries and he said his studies of war propaganda and using images for advocating peace aren’t just important as scholarly work, but has the potential to impact people and show them how peaceful it could be, at least in a small way.
After coming home from war, Conroy met his wife, Joan.
“I knew she was special on the first date, she paid,” he said chuckling.
They met through a mutual friend, dated for eight years and have been married now for more than 30 years.
“He is a kind, generally understanding and thoughtful man,” Joan said in a soft voice.
When he’s not working or teaching, Conroy likes to go to Montreal with his wife.
“We like to walk and that is a great place to go,” he said. “We go to all the little shops, farmers markets, wine bars and check out the free jazz concerts. We don’t go so much to the concerts because they have gotten so big and my wife is so small I’d lose her,” he said with a laugh.
Their favorite restaurant to go to is a little vegetarian place called the Commensal in Montreal or the Single Pebble in Burlington.
When home, Conroy likes to tend to his garden. He has blueberry bushes and garlic patches. He also likes to cook and bake, mostly bread. He also collects papers.
“We go anyplace and he will bring home these papers, they are everywhere because he doesn’t like to throw anything away!” Joan exclaimed.
He likes all sorts of music, especially jazz and folk, and reads short stories by Fitzgerald and Cheever and novels by authors including Zadie Smith and Michael Ondaatje.
Conroy plans to retire in a year but also says he might teach part-time at a couple of colleges in Rhode Island or go back to working for non-profit organizations.
“The key is to stay active and out of trouble, you know?” he said with a chuckle and slight shake of his head.