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Popular cyclist mourned as donations arrive for children

Mourners gather outside Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church following the funeral for Thomas Palermo. Palermo was killed last week after he was struck by a vehicle driven by an Episcopal bishop while riding his bike on Roland Avenue.
Mourners gather outside Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church following the funeral for Thomas Palermo. Palermo was killed last week after he was struck by a vehicle driven by an Episcopal bishop while riding his bike on Roland Avenue. (Kim Hairston, Baltimore Sun)

The altar at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Towson was decked out in its holiday finest, and so were Thomas Palermo's children.

Four-year-old Sam wore a bright red sweater vest, and 6-year-old Sadie was dressed in two shades of party pink. Each held one of their mother Rachel's hands as they followed their father's ashes to the front of the church. Sadie clutched a teddy bear.

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"Christmas is a time to celebrate," said the Rev. Steven Roth. "It isn't supposed to be this way."

Several hundred friends, family and co-workers joined Palermo's wife and children Saturday morning to mourn the popular cyclist, who was struck and killed a week earlier while out for a ride on a warm afternoon.

"We are a people of time," said Roth, noting the many electronic ways to keep track of our days. "There is a time for everything, but I can't imagine that this is the right time for Tom to die."

Bishop Suffragan Heather Elizabeth Cook, the second-ranking official in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, has been identified by the diocese and her attorney as the driver of the car that struck Palermo on Roland Avenue in North Baltimore. Police are investigating. No charges have been filed.

Her superior in the church, Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton, called on Episcopalians to join in a moment of silent prayer and reflection during the time scheduled for the funeral.

"The time that was Tom's," said the priest, "is now our time to remember him."

Gary Dunn, who knew the Johns Hopkins Hospital software engineer for more than a decade, sobbed openly while trying to eulogize his friend. He said he had sought him out at the bike shop where he worked in College Park, looking to find "this mystical frame builder."

"Friendship with Tom was easy," Dunn said. "He was a quiet leader who would have been embarrassed by all this attention."

Palermo, who was 41, lived with his family in the Baltimore County community of Anneslie and often rode his bike to work when working in a Hopkins location in Mount Washington. He was a fixture in Baltimore's cycling community, having made a name for himself building custom bike frames. He joined Hopkins two years ago but continued to build and repair bikes in his spare time.

Hundreds of cyclists gathered on New Year's Day in a somber ride in his memory, leaving tokens and candles near the spot where he was killed. Riders also left a white "ghost bike" chained to a street sign near the accident site.

Also Saturday, donations continued to arrive via an online fundraising site to pay for the education of the Palermo children.

The original goal on youcaring.com of $10,000 was quickly surpassed, as was the revised goal of $50,000. A new goal of $75,000 has been set. Donations are also being accepted by Michael Molloy at the financial planning firm of Stifel Nicolaus in Baltimore.

"He was a passionate man," said Dunn. "Whether it was about cycling, coffee, wine or food. But he was most passionate about his family."

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@SusanReimer on Twitter.com

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