Tom Gear, former state delegate and Hampton City Council member, dies
June 13--Former Del. Tom Gear, R-Hampton, died Wednesday of an apparent suicide in York County, according to a law enforcement official.
Gear, 69, had served in the House of Delegates from 2002 until 2010, resigning shortly before the 2011 General Assembly as he battled with multiple sclerosis.
"He was not afraid to buck the system, not afraid to speak up for what he believed ... for the people of Hampton, who loved him so much," said Del. Brenda Pogge, R-Norge. She grew to know Gear in the 2002 campaign against a sales tax increase to fund road projects in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia and later managed his second campaign for the House.
"Tom had a way of perturbing people and then turning around and being their friend," she said. "He was always ready to put out his right hand and shake anybody's hand."
"Tom was a brilliant man and he had an engaging personality. I always came away better informed after discussing something with Tom," Hampton Councilman Billy Hobbs said. "He knew Hampton and our people."
An often outspoken critic of government, Gear bucked GOP leaders when he opposed a 2007 proposal that would have allowed local governments to raise taxes to fund regional transportation projects. He battled fiercely with state Senators over judicial openings on the Peninsula.
Gear was found dead by suicide on Wednesday morning in the 1700 block of Waterview Road in York County, said York-Poquoson Sheriff J.D. "Danny" Diggs.
"He was found down there at 9:57 a.m. by Dominion Energy workers," Diggs said.
Waterview Road is at the mouth of the York River -- near the Dominion Yorktown Power Station -- about 31 miles from Gear's home in the Willow Oaks area of Hampton.
Diggs said that it was obvious from the scene that it was a suicide, and that "there were some other indicators" related to family members reporting Gear missing Tuesday night in Hampton. It was not clear how long he had been dead, Diggs said, but he had last been heard from about 1 a.m.
"I've known Tom for probably 20 years, and it's a real tragedy," Diggs said. "Tom was a great guy."
When Gear served as a state delegate, Diggs said, "he did a great job for us."
"Any issues that I ever had (pertaining to the General Assembly), he always accepted my advice," Diggs said. "And he called for my advice."
About 15 years ago, Diggs said, there was some confusion among lawmakers in a committee on a bill pertaining to polygraph testing, and Gear looked at Diggs, who was sitting nearby. "I gave him a thumbs up," Diggs said. "And he voted yes."
Donna Price, the administrator for the State Medical Examiner's Office Hampton Roads office in Norfolk, said the examination into Gear's death was not yet complete.
"I am saddened to hear about the passing of Del. Gear. My thoughts are with his family during this difficult time," Speaker of the House Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, said in a statement.
"Although Tom and I were on the opposite sides of the aisle, we had a deep respect for each other," said Gaylene Kanoyton, first vice chairwoman, Democratic Party of Virginia. "We were comfortable enough to joke with each other politically. Tom fought the issues he believed in and served his constituents well. My deep condolences to his family."
Son of former Hampton Mayor Thomas J. Gear, he launched into public service in 1995 when he led fundraising for Honor Park in Hampton, a memorial garden to police officers and firefighters killed in the line of duty.
He was elected to City Council in 1998 and won election to the House of Delegates in 2001.
Gear's wife, Janet, died in 2014. They had two adult children.
He was a commercial printer and operated Gear-Up Printing on Armistead Avenue in Hampton for many years.
The National Suicide Prevention Hotline number is 1-800-273-8255. It provides free, confidential help 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Staff writers Reema Amin and Lisa Vernon Sparks contributed to this report.
Ress can be reached by telephone at 757-247-4535