A Real Opportunity
It was that secretary that caught the eye of Bob Vila while he was at NBSS to record a segment on the school for his television show. In fact, Vila was so impressed with the work of the NBSS student that he kept a close eye on Tommy.
Someone from Vila’s camp handed Tommy a camera and suggested that he film his work in the shop and then post it online. The camera loved Tommy, and Tommy was more than comfortable with the camera – this was his first real taste of what would become his life’s calling.
Later, Vila extended an invitation to all students to bring their finished furniture work to fill the rooms of the home at which he was filming. Tommy hustled to get as many pieces as he could –11 in all – and that can-do attitude gave him a taste of fame. As Vila strolled through the home filming the segment, Tommy was mentioned often as his many furniture pieces were shown on camera.
Upon completing his program at NBSS, Tommy decided to stay around for another term. That also proved to be a great decision. The incoming class just so happened to include a recently retired WGBH executive. Information was passed on, introductions were made and Tommy met Laurie Donnelly, executive producer of lifestyle programming for WGBH.
With his North Bennet certification achieved, Tommy began conversations with Eli Cleveland, a new student at NBSS and the guy destined to become Tommy’s right-hand man. Cleveland was a regular contributor of comments on Tommy’s blog, and Tommy asked him to stop by the shop to talk more and to possibly work together on a project. The two hit it off and continued to work in the shop while posting online and building a following. (Read more about Cleveland in “From College Student to Technical Advisor” below.)
As Tommy’s woodworking advanced, he made it a point to keep Donnelly in the loop and updated with anything new in his career with the occasional e-mail to keep his name fresh in her mind. When the time came to consider a new woodworking show (after Norm Abram announced his retirement) – Donnelly immediately thought of Tommy.
WGBH, Donnelly and Tommy worked out the details and an announcement was made about the new show in February 2010. Meanwhile, WGBH was searching for a show sponsor.
So Tommy picked up the phone and placed a call to Jeff Forbes, president of Woodcraft Supply. Tommy said he began the conversation with: “If someone would have come along 21 years ago and said Norm (Abram) was going to do a show, would you want in? What would you say?”
On St. Patrick’s day in 2010, Tommy learned that Woodcraft Supply would sponsor the show. “It was the greatest day for an Irish guy,” Tommy said.