He was born April 3, 1923, in Plymouth, Ohio, the son of the late Percy Hubert and Anona Elder Root. An avid motorcyclist and pilot in his teens, he was a 1940 graduate of Plymouth High School. He attended Denison University and Embry-Riddle School of Aviation (now Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University). Mr. Root shipped as a merchant seaman on the lake freighter William J. Filbert during World War II, and graduated from The Ohio State University in 1946 with a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering. While at OSU, he served as chief photographer of The Makio, the University’s yearbook.
After graduation from Ohio State, Mr. Root returned to Plymouth and began working at The Fate-Root-Heath Co., the firm that his grandfather and father cofounded, gaining engineering expertise in brick, clay-tile and ceramic products fabricating machinery. He remained at F-R-H for 20 years, until the company was sold. He then joined J.C. Steele & Sons, Inc., in Statesville, North Carolina, a maker of ceramic machinery, as a manufacturer’s representative and engineering consultant, where he remained until his retirement.
In 1948, Mr. Root married Joanne Lawrence of New London. They lived in Plymouth until 2007, when they moved to Norwalk.
After the honeymoon, Mr. Root realized that he could not pursue his love of aviation unless he could make money doing so. He combined flying with his interest in photography, and began taking aerial photographs for farmers, businesses and commercial customers. Then the tail began wagging the dog, and his sideline business – Tom Root Air Photos – became lucrative enough that he could not afford to give up flying. He took aerial photos for more than 50 years, amassing tens of thousands of high-quality photos that not only served his customers, but documented tragedies, feats of engineering, development and history. A number of his photos form collections at The Ohio Historical Society and area museums.
Mr. Root was a life-long member of the First Evangelical Lutheran Church, Plymouth. He served as president of the school board of Plymouth-Shiloh School District in the 1960s and was a founding member of the Plymouth Area Historical Society, for which he served as a trustee for many years. He and Mrs. Root were honored as Plymouth Citizens of the Year in 2001. He was a 32 nd degree Mason, a member of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Columbus Valley.
After moving to Norwalk, he and his wife continued to work regularly as volunteers at Plymouth Heritage Center Museum and were the historical society’s representatives to the Firelands Historical Society.
Mr. Root never relinquished his love of aviation. As a pilot, he accumulated more than 5,000 hours in a Piper Super Cub and held a commercial pilot rating. He was a founder of Ohio History of Flight Museum in Columbus. Even after he retired as a pilot, Mr. Root remained an active member, serving for several years as a docent. His in-flight photographs of the Island Airlines Ford Tri-Motor are on display at Liberty Aviation Museum in Port Clinton. The Federal Aviation Administration honored him in 2011 with the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award, recognizing 50 years of safe aircraft flight operations.
Despite his full-time work in the ceramic industry and thousands of hours both in the air and his basement darkroom, Mr. Root found time to attend his children’s sporting events. Time for himself was typically limited to a weekly round of golf in the summer — and even then, he would take his children and the neighbor kids along to swim in the pool. He traveled to China with an American Ceramic Society expedition in 1980 (when such trips were rare), visiting Chinese ceramic manufacturing facilities far in the country’s interior. Although he was a picky eater, he gamely ate what he was served by his Chinese hosts. After he returned, one of his children suggested to him that in all likelihood he ate dog meat at least once. “I probably did,” he shrugged.
After their children were grown, Mr. and Mrs. Root traveled to Europe, Russia, Australia, New Zealand and South America.
Little of the foregoing, however, captures his essence. His children recall not only that he substituted for their mother when she was teaching or attending a meeting, but that when he did, he made everything a little more interesting. As young children, they found that Dad made going to bed more fun, and as they got older, they found breakfasts were more adventuresome when he took on morning duties after Mrs. Root returned to teaching. Outings with him were just a little less structured and more spontaneous.
He was known for his sense of humor, providing mealtimes with a nonstop laugh track. And there was little he would not do, and do well, for his children. He patiently taught all four how to drive, and accepted dinged bumpers and even a deer-car collision with good humor. In 1960, he built an enclosed wooden platform for his children’s play, mounted six feet above the ground on poles. Dubbed the “Treehouse,” although not in a tree, the structure served his kids and grandkids. It still stands almost 60 years later.
He is survived by his daughter, Susan Root Moore of Plymouth; sons and daughters-in-law, Thomas L. and Kathy G. Root of Norwalk, Steven C. Root and Karen Ebel of New London, New Hampshire, and William Todd and Cherise Root of Hopkinton, Massachusetts; grandchildren, Thomas P.J. Root (Rachel), Leslie J.L. Root (Evan), Katharine C. Moore Veletean (Jason), Andrew E. Root, Travis S.C. Root, Elizabeth J. Moore and Elizabeth L. “Molly” Root; and great-grandchildren Mabel and Helen (T.J. and Rachel), Ezra (Leslie and Evan), and Nash (Katharine and Jason). He was predeceased by his wife, Joanne Lawrence Root; brother, Paul Hubert Root; sisters, Miriam Eleanor Root Baxter and Ruth Margaret Root Wheadon; and son-in-law, Timothy Joseph Moore.
Calling hours are 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, February 16, at First Evangelical Lutheran Church in Plymouth, followed by a memorial service at 1 p.m. at the church, with the Reverend Blanche Tyree officiating.
The family asks that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to Plymouth Area Historical Society or to First Lutheran Church in Plymouth.