Tommy Gibson Sees with His Hands
Growing up in New Jersey’s Edison Township, Tommy Gibson had no idea what he wanted to do. He served on the student council, worked in a drugstore, and excelled on his high school forensics team (organized speech competition), but he ended up moving from college to college, searching for inspiration. He knew what he wanted to avoid, however, as he watched his dad wrestle with office politics day-in and day-out as the comptroller for Prudential Insurance Company.
Dad was a Methodist minister who converted to Catholicism. He would have a bit more to wrestle with when Tommy marched confidently out of the closet at the tender age of 16. There was yelling. There were recriminations. And in the heat of that moment his father banished him from the house. The hysteria dissipated, but when they asked Tommy to return, he didn’t comply until he was 19. His taste for older Latino guys was met with similar parental disapproval, but by then Gibson was ready to be on his own.
He attended school to learn computer operations, devouring all aspects of the science: hardware, mainframes and the interfacing of printers, terminals and processing units so they talked to one another politely. He accepted a job at Banker’s Trust even before he graduated second in his class. As the “printer pool jockey” he kept work orders and information flowing smoothly through the system. He quickly outgrew the skills required for that position, and intimidated his fellow workers by vastly improving the workflow. Their attachment to the status quo was threatened, and in 1985 Tommy joined Electronic Data Systems (EDS), taking over the Western Union Data Center in New Jersey. He handled their complex data networking for about 14 months, eventually leaving to join the investment firm Smith Barney at their Network Control Center in Manhattan.
In just eight months Gibson leapt from second Shift Network Operator all the way to Network Supervisor; rewriting and consolidating the process for restarting Smith Barney’s complex digital network. His preemptive efforts paid off on the day the market crashed in 1987 when the chaotic activity of the day threatened to crash the system. Smith Barney was purchased by Primerica Insurance and was eventually gobbled up by Primerica’s then-parent company, Citigroup. He spent 10 years there.
Tommy enjoyed frequenting the East Village superclub, The Saint. The über high-tech members-only establishment would be the venue where he would meet his long-time partner, Randy, who was the manager of the Ice Palace on Fire Island. In fact, they tied the knot on Fire Island at a commitment ceremony exactly 30 years—to the day—before Delaware passed its long-awaited same-sex marriage legislation. Tommy even made the cake himself. “Our wedding book is a piece of gay history,” he smiles.
On vacation in Key West, they met a group of people from Pittsburgh who told them about a little town on the Delaware coast named Rehoboth Beach. Tommy’s first reaction was the same as the enduring, yet good-natured jab at the state’s pocket-sized stature: DelaWHERE? But on Labor Day 1989 they drove down Rehoboth Avenue and it was love at first sight. He could clearly see that he was home. They spent weekends here until he finally relocated permanently in 1998.
Sadly, Tommy contracted Cytomegalovirus (CMV) retinitis, an inflammation of the retina that can lead to blindness. In spite of 30 eye operations and the eventual loss of all his sight in 1995, Tommy asked himself, “What can I do that I don’t need my eyes for?” The answer was clear: professional massage. He earned the necessary certifications and created his own massage practice, cleverly named Knead A Rub.
People in Gibson’s life assumed he couldn’t do things on his own, and this annoyed him immensely. So in 2004, he moved to Fort Lauderdale for two years— alone. “I had to prove to others—and myself—that I could do things on my own, including moving and setting up an entirely new life.” He earned notoriety for his massage services offered primarily to people in the blind community, and a website review attributed his success to a “sixth sense.” And thus was born Sixth Sense Bodyworks.
Tommy created a comfortable, relaxing and professional venue for his services in his home. He treats chronic musculoskeletal pain by concentrating on myofascial trigger points. I asked him why he chose that method, and he replied, “Because it works. I get actual results, not just short-term feeling good. The effects of my manipulations can be sustained over a long period of time.” By the way, when he is not seeing—and healing— with his hands, he is assisted by his faithful service dog, Opus. Like his master, Opus is calm, friendly and totally professional.
I’ll give Tommy the last word: “Massage keeps me connected to people. Everybody is just a voice to me. By massaging my clients, they become much more than just nebulous sounds that pop up around me. In fact, I feel I can actually see them with my hands.”
Bob Yesbek is a Rehoboth Beach resident. Email Bob Yesbek