Born Thomas Noel Rettig
in Jackson Heights, New York
December 10, 1941- February 15, 1996
People- March 4, 1996
WHEN INVESTOR JEFF MILLER moved to Marina del Rey eight years ago, he introduced himself to Tommy Rettig, who lived next door in a one-bedroom waterfront condo. Hearing the name, Rettig seemed surprised. "What?" asked the new neighbor. "You know another Jeff Miller?"
"Yeah," Rettig answered. "I played him on Lassie."
With time, there were fewer of those reminders for Rettig, who was 54 when he died of heart failure Feb. 15. Since 1985, the former actor had run a successful, home-based business, designing computer software for universities and government agencies. But he received several letters a week from fans who still thought of him as the smiling boy who, from 1954 to 1957, called, "Here, girl!" to America's quadruped sweetheart. Less happily, other people remembered Rettig as one of those child stars who'd drifted into trouble. In a string of jobs he had little luck, and he was busted in the '70s for marijuana possession and cocaine smuggling. (The latter charge was overturned.)
Although he was for years an outspoken advocate of recreational drug use, the substance he may have abused the most was fat. Death, ruled a coroner, was brought on by arteriosclerosis. Ex-wife Darlene, 51, a friend since their 1976 divorce, says, "Anything that would clog the arteries, he'd eat it." He used to love steak and junk food.
Rettig, the only child of Elias Rettig, a Lockheed aircraft-parts inspector, and his wife, Rosemary, began his career at age 5, after he was spotted by an acting coach who lived in the family's apartment building in Queens, N.Y. After touring with Mary Martin in Annie Get Your Gun, he landed roles in movies, among them 1954's River of No Return, starring Marilyn Monroe. Then, at 12, he was cast as Jeff Miller. He bonded strongly with his canine costar--who, like the whole line of Lassies, was male--and even took him home on weekends (the family had moved West in 1949). That stopped when Lassie became confused about whether to obey his trainer or Rettig.
After four seasons, Rettig was deemed too old, and Lassie was given a new, younger master, 7-year-old Jon Provost. Rettig later told friends his final episode was the happiest day of his life. "I wanted to be a real kid," he said. Recognized everywhere, though, he abandoned that idea. After graduating from L.A.'s University High in 1958 and marrying 15-year-old Darlene Portwood, he tried to get back into acting, without much success. While he took pride in being the father of two sons, Tom and Duane, now 35 and 34, Rettig later said that, in his 20s, "I considered suicide every day."
In the early '80s, having tried selling tools and managing a health club, he founded an est-like motivation program. But it wasn't until he sat down at a computer to compile a mailing list that he finally found himself. "He was fascinated but not mystified" by computers, says software designer Tom Rombouts, who worked for him.
Rettig remained friends with Provost, who would always end their visits together with a line he had spoken in Rettig's last episode: "Thanks for the dog, Jeff!" In the end, though, Lassie may have had the final word. The collie now filling the role (there's always some Lassie project) was expected to attend Rettig's memorial in Marina del Rey.
-- TOM CUNNEFF in Los Angeles
Fox Pro obituary-
The FoxPro and entire Xbase community lost a giant on February 15. Tom Rettig was one of the main reasons we can use the term "community" when we talk about the group of people who work in FoxPro. At Ashton-Tate, Tom was one of the designers of dBASE III and wrote the essential reference book on it. He built the first add-on library for Clipper, pioneering the public domain tools that make all our jobs easier. Tom wrote articles for DATA BASED ADVISOR, appeared on FOXPRO ADVISOR satellite TV conferences, and spoke at many developer events including the FoxPro DevCons. Tom Rettig's Help and Tom Rettig's FoxPro Handbook taught us the intricacies of FoxPro; many of us keep well-worn copies by our desks.
Tom had every right to a high opinion of himself. Child actor Tommy Rettig had great success, starring in several movies, and playing Jeff Miller, the first owner of TV's "Lassie." Tom reprised the role a few years ago in an episode of "The New Lassie" series; he wrote the script that had Lassie using a computer (helped by himself as a grown-up Jeff Miller). This was especially fitting, because as an adult, Tom's ability as a programmer was legendary -- he was a guru with a Hollywood-famous name. Yet he was one of the most friendly, accessible people you'd hope to meet.
As news of Tom's death (from natural causes) spread, dozens of people posted messages on the Fox forums. Those messages, while deeply touching, were remarkable for their similarity. Here are a few examples:
"He spoke to people as peers, whether they were on a guru or novice level. He never seemed condescending. Once he was introduced to me, he remembered my name and always greeted me by it as if I was a long lost friend."
"What a class act: Here he is, an acknowledged guru, author and vendor of a powerful FoxPro development environment (Tom Rettig's Office), and instead of talking about himself, he asks about my (relatively piddling) work."
"Somehow when we were around Tom we got to be more valuable than we were before--smarter, funnier, more gracious. And he seems to have made everybody feel like that."
The FoxPro community will never be the same without Tom Rettig. May we all learn from the example of his life to keep it a rich, warm, friendly, open place. I'll close with this quote from another member of the community who addressed these remarks to Tom's spirit:
"Tomorrow I will be as unfailingly gracious and uplifting to everyone I meet as you were. Being like you tomorrow is the best tribute I can think of. Who knows, maybe it'll be contagious."
Little known facts:
At the end of Tommy's life, he was again reunited with Lassie, as his ashes were spread off the coast of Marina del Rey onboard the LaSea, with Lassie present to say goodbye.
Tommy is considered one of the gurus of FoxPro history. His programs are legendary. One "program" he wrote, we should all execute-
A "Program for Life" authored by the late Tom Rettig
USE Yourself exclusive
SET TALK OFF
DO WHILE ALIVE
STORE "LOVE" TO heart
STORE "health" TO body
STORE "peace" TO mind
STORE "compassion" TO others
STORE "esteem" TO self
STORE "faith" TO God
REPLACE Negative WITH Positive , ;
Judgment WITH Acceptance , ;
Resentment WITH Forgiveness
REPLACE Hopelessness WITH Choice , ;
Confusion WITH Clarity , ;
Procrastination WITH Participation
REPLACE Separation WITH Connection , ;
Lack WITH Abundance , ;
Sorrow WITH Celebration
@ all, times SAY your_truth
SAVE TO Always