Thomas J. Walsh of Mashpee, who once hosted “Ross Bickford's Comedy Cab” in Boston and was booked on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson, died June 15. He was 78.
Mr. Walsh started out as a comedy writer for a Boston comedy troupe; he used Ross Bickford as his stage name and was popular in the 1980s. He then developed a solo act as “Ross Bickford, the Cab Driver,” which evolved into a live variety show, “The Comedy Cab,” at the Charles Playhouse in Boston.
Beginning in the late 1970s and during the next decade, he performed original comedy in colleges and nightclubs across the country and worked with some of the big names of comedy, including writing jokes for Rodney Dangerfield.
Although he officially retired from comedy in 1998, it remained his avocation for the rest of his life.
Mr. Walsh was passionate about making medical care available to people who are uninsured or underinsured—and took an active stance to support the local effort.
When the Falmouth Free Clinic was formed in 1998 to offer free health services to uninsured residents of Cape Cod and the islands, a group of volunteer physicians, nurses and counselors provided care once a week in borrowed space at Falmouth Hospital. The practitioners integrated mental health sessions with medical care during the same visit, carrying out the clinic's philosophy that mental and physical health issues need to be treated together.
Over time, the clinic expanded its reach and resources until eventually the 10,000-square-foot facility housing the now renamed Community Health Center of Cape Cod in Mashpee was completed in 2008.
Early in 2001 the Enterprise reported that Mr. Walsh, who was then a resident of Fiddlers Cove in North Falmouth, spearheaded an auction to raise funds for the nonprofit. At the time he was a sales executive with LocalTel, publisher of yellow page directories, and his colleagues generated $850 in a silent auction during a group luncheon in Andover that was donated to what was then known as the Cape Cod Free Clinic.
Later that year, he hosted “Prescription: Comedy,” a comedy-variety-musical revue benefiting the clinic in Falmouth, which raised about $8,000.
He followed up that effort the next summer with “Prescription: Comedy, Second Dose (Now Refrigerated).”
During a June 2002 interview with then-Enterprise entertainment editor Gerree Hogan Trudeau, Mr. Walsh revealed the reason for the modification to the name: “At last year's ‘Prescription: Comedy’ show it was so hot that we decided to move it to an air-conditioned space,” Mr. Walsh said. “We need at least 600 seats because of how successful it was last time; we still expect to sell out.”
While she was conducting the interview, Ms. Trudeau observed that “Mr. Walsh may look attentive, but he's constantly filing funny things here and there in his head, tweaking existing material for the audience, and amusing himself—and me—endlessly with nonstop comedy.”
Dylan Huntoon-Walsh, Mr. Walsh's 15-year-old son, was to perform at the benefit and, his father said, "He'll do a bit, with me acting as the Dean Martin to his Jerry Lewis, about three [pretend] people who auditioned for the show but didn't make it. He does voices brilliantly.”
His son had been on his way to stardom several years before, having received outstanding reviews for his role in the Boston Children's Theatre production of “Pinocchio”; but tragedy struck shortly thereafter when his older brother died just three weeks shy of his 18th birthday. This would be Dylan's first appearance onstage since that event.
During the benefit, staged the last Saturday in June at the Mashpee High School auditorium, Mr. Walsh performed his first stand-up routine since 1985 in addition to his duties as master of ceremonies.
In his self-penned obituary, Mr. Walsh said that humor "was my life. I never retired from making people laugh. One of my last lines was when the hospice nurse asked, ‘Tom, are you comfortable?’ I croaked, ‘I make a living.’ ”
Aside from comedy, he worked in direct outside sales and gave presentations “by becoming ‘Tom J Walsh, Sales Coach,’ consulting with sales people and business owners,” he wrote.
During his retirement, for five years he worked behind the deli counter at Roche Bros. in Mashpee.
In recent years he had entertained periodically at a "Just For Laughs Breakfast" at Mashpee Senior Center and, also during his 70s, he performed as emcee at a weekly comedy night in Onset.
Mr. Walsh wrote that he had been in recovery for nearly 23 years and 12-step programs were central in his life. Seventeen years ago he founded a men’s Al-Anon meeting at Parish of Christ the King in Mashpee, and “I hardly missed a meeting in all those years, those guys being my fellowship and my deep friendships,” he wrote.
In addition to his son, he leaves Kathleen F. Smith-Brown, with whom he had spent the last 20 years; two grandsons; as well as Ms. Smith-Brown's three children and their families.
He was preceded in death by his sons Alex Walsh and Damon Walsh.
A celebration of the life of Mr. Walsh will take place at Unity on Cape Cod, a spiritual center to which he belonged for 20 years, on Saturday, June 29, at 10 AM at 147 Walton Avenue in Hyannis.