He was born in Oklahoma and raised in Texas. Lake Atitlán expats called him “Mississippi Tom” to distinguish him from another Texan, also named Tom, and because he settled in Mississippi in the sixties after stints in harvesting wheat, being a grocer, and trapping king crabs off of Alaska. In Meridan, Mississippi, he ran a janitorial business, and restored several old cars to mint condition.
To his Guatemalan neighbors in Santa Cruz la Laguna, he was not Mississippi but Tomacito. He became a salient personality there, popular for his kindness, charm and generosity, but also for his recall of fellow crooner Presley’s lyrics, which he enjoyed singing a capella. He also entertained the curious with his yodeling, an art form rarely seen in highland Guatemala.
Griffin had come to Santa Cruz in 1992 looking for somewhere to eventually retire, drawn by the lake’s beauty. While there, he built a house in the town for himself and his wife, Linda, and then a second house. At about this time, Tom gave up marathon running, which he had done for decades, but increased his fishing for crappie and lake bass. He kept only what he could eat, and gave the rest to neighbors.
In 2007, Tom moved to Panajachel, where, among other things, he joined the Panajachel Players, a group of local thesbians made up of expats and Guatemalans. One memorable performance was in April, at a Vaudeville directed by Barbara Ramey. In Tom’s rendition of Presley’s I’m All Shook Up, he sang and shimmied opposite Players star Thilda Horn, a Santa Cruz neighbor. Their act earned more laughs and cheers during the run of the Vaudeville than did any other gig.
Surviving Tom is his daughter, Kathy Wright, also of Panajachel, two granddaughters and three great grandchildren in Lubbock, Texas. “He was a good man,” Kathy says. “Everyone will miss him.”