A graduate of UCLA, Tom Ham came to San Diego in 1955 to rescue a floundering Shelter Island restaurant, the Bali Hai. The restaurant became a success and provided him with an opportunity to pursue his lifelong interest: the study of California history, avid involvement in many community affairs, and the athletic and scholastic advancement of Californians.
Tom Ham’s Lighthouse, the best seafood restaurants, opened for business in 1971. An actual functioning lighthouse, known as Beacon #9 on any USCG Nautical Map, was incorporated into the design. The result is one of San Diego’s best known architectural landmarks. Besides the Lighthouse, Tom Ham’s is also famous for its eye-catching vistas of the San Diego Bay, Coronado Bridge and San Diego skyline. Today, the restaurant is operated by a second generation of Hams who continue the tradition of fine dining and exceptional service that represents a culmination of the interests and visions of the Californian whose name it bears.
He loved San Diego — his adopted city. That is what we will remember him for — and for his warmth, his intensity of devotion to noble causes and shining ideals; his affection for and pride in his family; the loyalty he inspired among employees and associates; and the dynamic, driving leadership that left an imperishable mark on his surroundings.
We are all the better for having been a part of his life, for having been touched by his vitality, and for having shared the enthusiasms that galvanized a seemingly endless series of projects.
Tom Ham’s hallmark was his unquenchable optimism. He always thought big. I came to know him best during the early planning for San Diego’s 200th anniversary celebration. He had already attained a reputation as an authority on early San Diego history, and had been rewarded with the presidency of the anniversary corporation formed to plan the year-long pageantry. When he was told that one of his staggeringly ambitious proposals of the celebration was an impossible dream, he remarked: “San Diego was built from such dreams — Kate Sessions’ impossible dream of a world-famous park, Spreckels’ impossible dream of a new city, and Father Serra’s impossible dreams that may someday lead to sainthood.”
Tom joins the San Diego pantheon of such immortals in shaping the character of our beloved community. He dealt in impossible dreams and helped us achieve some of them. Burning within him was a steady flame of ideas for the betterment of his chosen environment. His ardor infected everyone within his orbit, so that goals that seemed unattainable were somehow realized.
His audacious adventuring into the realm of imagination and creativity was applied to the toughly competitive world of business with remarkable success. When Tom came to San Diego eighteen years ago, his professional experience was that of a tax accountant. He knew little of the restaurant business, but he had that invaluable quality — an intuitive, dramatic flair that rescued one restaurant from bankruptcy, and established another as an overnight success. Today the Bali Hai and Tom Ham’s Lighthouse are world famous San Diego Harbor landmarks.
Tom’s sartorial trademark was his colorful Hawaiian shirts, worn on virtually all occasions, an emblem of the informality, the friendliness, the neighborliness, the openness that marked his character and his relationships with other humans. To me this engaging contrast with the more somber style of his contemporaries seemed an expression of freedom from hidebound tradition. He never hesitated to cross new frontiers to explore new ways of thinking and of doing things.
Tom’s interests covered a broad spectrum. He was an avid alumnus of UCLA, from which he graduated in business administration following three years in the Army during World War II, in which he earned three combat starts while serving as an infantry lieutenant in Iceland, England, France and Germany. He was one of the most versatile athletes in UCLA’s history, winning his letters in swimming, water polo, ice hockey, football, track and cross country. After graduation, he recruited many an outstanding athlete for his alma mater, which showered honors on him. In 1964 he was named outstanding UCLA Alumnus of the Year, and most recently, the UCLA Alumni Scholarship was placed in his name.
As a businessman, he was called upon to assume numerous collateral duties by his colleagues. He was President of the Greater Shelter Island Association, Secretary- Treasurer of Harbor Island Hosts, Trustee of the Bartenders and Culinary Workers welfare and pension fund, and past President of the Peninsula Chamber of Commerce. In community affairs, Tom was fundraising chairman for the proposition that established the city’s hotel room tax; he was chairman of the Cabrillo Festival, a member of the executive board of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, and county chairman of the U.S. Olympic Fund.
But he was most ardently devoted to the great avocation of his life– the study of the San Diego County history, in which few equaled his knowledge. A living monument to many of Tom’s concepts is Old Town State Park. As chairman of the park’s advisory board, he envisioned Old town as a unique tourist attraction that reincarnated the spirit and atmosphere of San Diego’s earliest days. He lived to see the beginning of the implementation of that goal.
It was fitting that in the last hours of Tom’s life, he was conferring with a representative of the California Conference of Historical Societies on his nomination for the outstanding individual award for voluntary effort.
As he loved San Diego, so did San Diegans love him. It was genuine emotion that went beyond admiration for his ability and successes. As he constantly sought to attain his own full potential through maximum application of effort in every one of his activities, so did he have the knack to draw out the full potential from those whose lives he touched and with whom he became deeply concerned.
Tom’s family can derive strength and solace from the knowledge that he not only lived a full, productive, meaningful life, but enriched the lives of everyone with whom he came in contact.
We shall never forget him. This is Tom Ham’s eternal memorial.
Eulogy by Harold Keen to Tom Ham, Jr. at Memorial Services St. Paul’s Episcopal Church | Saturday, November 10, 1973
Plaque presented to the Ham Family by his Colleagues of the Cabrillo Festival | 1974
Tom Ham’s Lighthouse was named one of three “Summer Musts: Oceanview Dining” in U-T’s Night&Day pull-out section.
Tom Ham's Lighthouse opened for business in 1971. A fully functioning lighthouse, known as Beacon #9 on USCG Nautical Maps, was incorporated into the design. The result is one of San Diego's best known architectural landmarks. In addition to the lighthouse, Tom Ham's is also famous for its eye-catching vistas of the San Diego Bay, Coronado Bridge and San Diego skyline. Today...