Tribute to Tom Clement: My First Friend in Gilbert

Tribute to Tom Clement: My First Friend in Gilbert

Twenty six years ago, the Lewis family moved to Gilbert from Katy, Texas.  Driving from Katy to Gilbert is a long distance, and our one family vehicle was tired after making the trip. We had been in Gilbert for just a few days when our vehicle died. I asked a neighbor, “Where do you go to have a car repaired in Gilbert?” The answer, “Clement’s Garage!”

As I arrived at the garage, I found Dave and Paul Clement busy working on other vehicles. They pointed to the office door and said, “Dad, will take good care of you in the office.”  As I entered, Tom approached the counter and said in a gruff voice, “What do you want?” As he saw my surprised look, he then laughed and said, “I am just joking. Welcome. Good to have you here. You don’t look familiar, are you new to the area?” I told him that I was. He then said, “We’ll fix your car and give you an official welcome to Gilbert–either Dave and Paul will be able to look at your car in a few minutes. Sit down and make yourself at home.”

In making myself at home, I found a chair and started a conversation with my new friend, 73 year old Tom Clement. Tom told me that he had grown up in Mesa, and decided to start his business in Gilbert in 1934 across from the train depot in downtown Gilbert. When he arrived in town, he was known as an outsider from the far distant land of Mesa. He did not have many customers at first until a major break-through occurred. Grandpa Lamoreaux brought a broken sewing machine to Clement’s Garage and asked Tom if it could be fixed.  Knowing that he had never repaired a sewing machine, but that he had a mechanical mind to do so, Tom said, “I can fix it!” That night, he did his best to look at the machine and he found a way to make it work. Word spread quickly in the farming community of Gilbert, “Tom Clement can fix anything,” and business started booming.

Our conversation continued, and Tom then told me about the history of Gilbert–history that included pre-Tom Clement years and his experiences in Gilbert from 1934-1985. By the time Dave Clement came into the office about an hour later to tell me that my car was fixed, our conversation had covered many topics of interest.  I left the garage with a fixed car, and detailed knowledge about my new home, Gilbert, Arizona.  The warm welcome of Tom Clement will never be forgotten. As I departed, I shook Tom’s hand and said, “Thank you. You are my first friend in Gilbert!”

Over the last 26 years, I have had many conversations with my first friend in Gilbert, who I started calling Grandpa Tom. He was at church. He was at community events. He seemed to be everywhere. And he was at the garage every day and so when it came time for a Lewis car to be fixed, I was in the office continuing to talk to my friend, Tom Clement!

One year he served as the Grand Marshal of the Gilbert Days Parade. I joined thousands in cheering for him as he waved down Gilbert Road. Last year, he was honored along with other former Gilbert Mayors at the Town’s 90th Birthday Celebration.  He told me that when he served as Mayor 60 years ago, life in Gilbert was much simpler. One day a resident wanted to show the Mayor his plans to build a home so that he could receive Town approval and begin the process. The resident stopped by Clement’s Garage. Mayor Tom Clement looked at the plans and said, “Follow me.” They walked up the street to the business of a Town Council member.  The Council member looked at the plans, and then signed his name.  They walked across the street to the location of another Town Council member. That individual looked at the plans, and signed his name. Mayor Tom then said, “I guess it is my turn to sign.” He signed, shook hands with the resident, and said, “You may begin.”

On behalf of many who have been blessed by Tom as a father, grandpa, uncle, neighbor, community leader, church leader, car mechanic and sewing machine repairman, I add my love and appreciation for Grandpa Tom Clement, my first friend in Gilbert whom I will never forget.

John Lewis

Mayor of Gilbert

Forever Friend to Grandpa Tom