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Hearts Are Heavy On Route 1

Friends, colleagues recall life of Tommy Tate.

Last Friday, Tommy Tate worked late as he often did. He stayed at GreenSpace Unlimited to feed the many stray cats who make their home there. When fellow worker and best friend, Justin Slater, came in the next day, he found Tate on the floor. It appeared that Tate had suffered a heart attack and died that evening.

Tate is missed by all who knew him, including Slater, owner Cindy Spak and part-time employee Gary Walker.

Customers of the business have expressed their feelings and of course, the cats seem to know that something is missing.

"Tommy was here for five years, day and night," said Spak. "He put more blood, sweat and tears into this place than anybody else. He went [died] in a place he loved, surrounded by the cats he loved, and without any notice-that's how he wanted to go, just like that."

As a worker, Tate was invaluable, but he was more than that to Spak. "He was my best friend. He was just such an amazing human being. Customers came in all the time and looked for him."

Henley Gabeau, former director of the Running Club of America, met him when GreenSpace was doing some landscaping at her former residence in Alexandria.

"It was obvious that he had had a hard life. I used to go out to talk to him and slowly, but surely, he warmed up, I absolutely loved him," she said.

Tara Gross is a long-time customer at GreenSpace, and said that she and Cindy go back a long time. Gross brought her first Christmas tree there when her eighth-grade daughter, Olivia, was then two years old. Over the years, she's seen the wonderful things that Spak has done for both people and animals, including the many stray cats she's taken in and cared for. Over the years, Gross has gotten to know Tate as well. She calls him a "gentle giant."

"I've known Tommy for years; he was an outstanding human being. He was very kind and very unassuming, a very hard worker. Tommy was very helpful, always helping load flowers or Christmas trees. He was a great guy," she said.

Walker, who worked with Tate, said, "He was the hardest working man I've ever known. He contributed single-handedly to the improvement of GreenSpace. He was kind and got along with everyone; he had a good sense of humor. He was always there, helping."

Slater was already working at GreenSpace when Tate began employment there. He said, "Tommy was a great worker, and was a great person to work with. He didn't talk much, but people knew him."

Spak said that she attended a private family service for Tate in Pulaski, [southwest Virginia] last week. "It was the kind of day Tommy would have been out on his boat," she said.

A memorial gathering will be held at Old Country Buffet, 7820 Richmond Hwy., on Sunday, September 21, at 5:30 p.m. For more information, call GreenSpace at 703-780-8657.