On Aug. 16, Tadd Gero ’08 sent a short e-mail to 25 of his closest friends.
“Friends,” he wrote. “I have severe pneumonia and am in the ICU at Columbia Green Hospital in Hudson, NY for a while, which also has wireless? Love, Tadd. I’m so sorry if I forgot anyone.”
It turned out to be the last thing Gero’s friends heard from him. The next day, Gero, 22, passed away from the resistant strain of pneumonia that had forced him into the hospital only days before. It was a muted and sudden end to what friends and family describe as a life that was boldly lived.
Before his illness, Gero had been living in a community of artists in Philadelphia, where he had moved on his own several months earlier. To pay the bills, Gero had been working at Urban Outfitters, but in his down time, he pursued his true passion: art.
According to Merrill Frew ’07, a friend, Gero was writing creative stories and journalism for three hours a day while he was in Philadelphia, as well as doing exercises to improve his writing technique. He had been working as a reporter for the Roe Jan Independent newspaper in Hudson, N.Y. until the paper went bankrupt and Gero decided it was time to move to a city with more young people.
Friends and relatives described Gero as a person who led others through the sheer force of his own energy. Whether it was writing and performing his own plays, leading absurd expeditions off-campus, stealing the show at a party or hiking across campus in the early morning hours to comfort someone, Gero, his friends recall, couldn’t stop doing things.
“My fondest memories are Tadd dancing on a table, Tadd doing something outrageous, Tadd eating and dancing,” said Shamiso Mtangi ’08. “I think when he wasn’t sleeping, 95 percent of the time he was moving his body. It was rare that you would be at a loss for something to do around him. He was always proposing a plan or an idea or scheme.”
In particular, friends fondly recall some of the bizarre adventures that were spawned by Gero’s active imagination. Lauren Goldman ’08 says she spent a day with Gero trying to find a unitard that would fit his lanky frame.
“One time we spent the whole day driving around Connecticut trying to find unitards because Tadd really wanted a unitard,” she said. “ And we went down into this store across from It’s Only Natural and it was this kids’ store and Tadd–who was 6’4”–went up and asked if they had unitards. They were like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ and Tadd thought they were so rude.”
Mtangi recalls a time that she was having dinner with friends one fall semester, but there was no dessert. Gero suggested that they go to Lyman Orchards, which was closed. They ended up bringing trash bags to the orchard in the dark of the night, Mtangi remembered, and as Gero stayed on the lookout for guards, the group stole enough apples to make desserts for the rest of the month.
“He was playful in every sense of the word—he didn’t take himself or anyone else too seriously,” Mtangi said. “It was such a Tadd thing to just flout any kind of authority.”
Ellen Knuti ’08 remembers when Gero bought a Michael Jackson flag at Wild Bill’s Nostalgia Store in Middletown, and proceeded to hang it from their Fountain Avenue house on a pole. Soon after, Physical Plant sent Knuti and Gero an e-mail indicating that they had violated school policy by altering the structure of their house.
“Tadd was like, no, we can’t relent, [Michael Jackson’s] colors must fly,” she said. “So we left it up for a while, and then the situation was exacerbated by the house next door to us putting up an Iraqi flag as a joke, and then we took it down. Our commitment to Michael Jackson was certainly no joke.”
As a theater major, Gero utilized his creative talents in performance, as well. In his senior year, he staged a reading of a script that he wrote called “Vanishing Point” about a brother and sister navigating a futuristic waste-land.
“It was about a brother and a sister,” Mtangi said. “Something has happened and they’re in a post-apocalyptic no-man’s land. The brother is a sort of shaman, a ‘keeper of the clouds,’ and the sister has a lesbian experience with a squirrel lady. It was a whimsical, dreamy piece that is just the kind of thing Tadd thought up on a daily basis.”
Along with Gero’s lack of concern for convention came a deeply felt sense of conviction, friends and family recall. Felissa Rose Gero, his mother, says this was true even at an early age.
“When Tadd was two years old, he said, ‘Tadd doesn’t eat meat,’ and our family eventually stopped eating meat because it made us think,” she said.
Gero remained a vegetarian for his whole life.
Years later, when Gero saw a violent altercation unfolding between students and police on Fountain Avenue during his final week at school, he was one of two students who rushed to the house of sleeping President Michael Roth to let him know what was happening. Shortly after, Roth came down to Fountain Avenue to survey the scene.
According to his mother, Gero always seemed to walk his own path. In his tiny hometown of Hillsdale, N.Y., Gero excelled while the rest of his classmates remained unmotivated. When he graduated middle school, Gero made plans to move to a more challenging high school in nearby Massachusetts. Before he did, though, an enterprising guidance counselor tried to coax him into staying in town.
“I called the guidance counselor in Hillsdale, and she said he should come here so he could be the valedictorian, and I told him that,” Felissa Gero said. “He said, ‘I don’t care.’ That’s not what was important to him.”
After two years of high school in Massachusetts, Gero attended Bard College at Simon’s Rock, an “early college” for ambitious and artistic high school students. Two years later, he received his associate’s degree and decided he wanted to transfer to Wesleyan.
When his application was put on Wesleyan’s waiting list, Gero repeatedly called and sent letters to the admissions department. Eventually, he was accepted–as a 17-year-old junior.
Gero took the next year off, traveling to Kenya, where he taught Kenyan history to children. He spent the other half of the year at the National Theater Institute in Waterford, CT.
After graduating from Wesleyan, Gero took his interest in journalism that he pursued on The Argus to Hudson, N.Y., where, as a reporter, he got to know the town mayor and interviewed former U.S. Weapons Inspector in Iraq Scott Ritter, as well as Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).
In December of 2008, Gero visited friends across Europe, traveling to London, Oxford, Amsterdam, Berlin, Stuttgart, and Prague.
After he left the Roe Jan Independent, Gero considered heading to Brooklyn. He couldn’t afford New York prices, however, and ended up moving to Philadelphia, where he quickly made new friends and joined a community of like-minded artists. Soon enough, he was setting up open mic nights and publicly performing stories that he had written, sometimes accompanied by live music.
“He knew the life he wanted to lead,” Frew said. “He didn’t find it in Hudson, he couldn’t afford it in New York City, but he found the raw material in Philly. He founded a life for himself there.”
Only a few months into his stay in Philadelphia, however, Gero contracted pneumonia. A few days later, he passed away.
“It’s so unreal to me,” Knuti said. “I can’t believe that Tadd, someone who was so exuberant and full of life, is no longer alive.”
On Oct. 3 at 1 p.m. there will be a memorial for Tadd Gero in Hudson, New York at Time & Space Limited at 434 Columbia St.