B y Bill Toscano
His classmates will remember Tommy Pollinger as the guy who made them laugh, the athlete who seemed to wear most of the uniforms Whitehall had to offer and a friend with a quick smiling and a helping hand.
They will remember attending his Bar Mitzvah, perhaps the only such celebration they had ever gone to, and his love for his family.
Most of all, they will remember that he died too young.
Pollinger, 19, was found dead on the morning of Tuesday, Feb. 1. His father, Steven, said his son had been struggling with drug addiction as he tried to recover from a 2009 motor vehicle accident.
“Tommy was in a horrendous accident; they put him on Oxycontin, and he got hooked on drugs,” Steven Pollinger said earlier this week. “The high was never enough. He tried in every fashion to beat it, but it beat him.”
As soon as word of Pollinger’s death got out, his extensive network of friends immediately reached out and used cell phones, texts, e-mail and Facebook to spread the word. Many of them had been home for the holidays but had since left to return to the second semester of college.
“No matter what, you couldn’t be mad at him,” said Carly Nichols, a friend of Pollinger’s who helped organize a Facebook tribute page that quickly topped more than 50 members. “He would flash you his bright smile, and he always made you laugh even if you were having your worst day. He also cared so deeply about others; he always put other people’s problems before his own.”
Dru Pollinger said very much the same thing about her son.
“He was just a wonderful kid. I think he loved life, and he wanted to be happy and make other people happy,” she said.
School Principal Kelly McHugh, who remembered meeting Pollinger when he was a seventh-grader, “He was so cute,” she said. She opened the school’s library to his friends on Friday afternoon, and more than three-dozen of them came, many of whom had graduated in June 2010.
“I thought it was important for them to have closure, to be able to get together and grieve,” said McHugh, who was near tears at times while talking to the students. “They needed something, and we could be here to give it to them.”
A number of teachers and staff members stayed with the teenagers, many of whom told stories, looked at pictures and hugged each other for strength.
“Tommy was respected by everyone,” basketball Coach Keith Redmond said. “Tommy gave 100 percent in both practice and games. When it came to be game time, Tommy was always focused and determined to win.
“The greatest part of the coaching business is the development of the relationships we share with each individual student. Our athletes become part of our families and the loss of any student is like losing one of your own,” Redmond added. “The greatest memory I will have of Tommy is the love and concern his family always had for him through thick and thin.”
Pollinger’s family chose to hold a private service at their home last Friday, and while they did not open it to the public, they are asking friends who want to express their sympathy to please call them at 499-2044 or at their business, Fair Haven Animal Hospital, at 802 265-3822.
The Pollingers held a traditional Jewish service at home and buried their son on their farm. “That’s a comfort for his mother,” Steven Pollinger said. “She knows he’s still here.”
Pollinger said the outpouring of support from the community has been tremendous. McHugh visited the family Saturday and brought papers bearing photos and memories from his friends.
In 2009, Tommy Pollinger suffered a broken collar bone when his sport utility vehicle went off Buckley Road and flipped several times. The vehicle’s roof was collapsed and state police said at the time that wearing a seatbelt prevented more serious injury. That injury kept him from playing football his senior year. The following spring, he competed in track instead of baseball and was a key part of the Railroaders’ team that won the Section II title.
Pollinger was the youngest of five siblings. He leaves two sisters, Jenny and Tess, and two brothers, Brett and Luke. He is also the grandson of Oscar Pollinger.
Tommy Pollinger was “taking control of his life,” his mother said. He was enrolled at Adirondack Community College and he was getting ready to start a job at Price Chopper in Rutland, Vt.
Steven Pollinger said the family is not planning a memorial fund, but added that he expects to begin telling his son’s story to alert others to the dangers of prescription drug addiction.
He said the hugs and expressions of sympathy have helped a great deal. He said people can choose out to honor his son, but gave one specific suggestion.
“People should do something for their pets,” he said. “That’s what we do in a situation like this.”