Tom O’Meara, a longtime lawyer at a historic, blue- blood firm, as well as a teacher and military veteran, does not fit the stereotype of a dedicated rider at the Hill Country Ride for AIDS (HCRA). Why not? For one thing, a person might assume that most riders are LGBT, but O’Meara has been married to his wife for 42 years. Others might wonder if he has seen a family member or friend struggle with the disease. But the truth is, O’Meara is the epitome of an engaged, consciousness-raising ally. In fact, he’s been riding in the HCRA each year since it was founded in 2000. Along the way, his prolific fundraising has benefited countless Central Texans living with HIV/AIDS, and, as he likes to note, he’s made a number of lifelong friends.
“It’s the whole idea of building a community as you fight these diseases,” he said, crediting HCRA founder and former executive director David Smith with creating the joyful, bonding atmosphere that pervades the event each spring. “Everyone in that community cares about each other.”
An avid cyclist who typically rides almost every day, including an occasional ride on the 52-mile round trip loop from Johnson City to Dripping Springs. O’Meara was contacted by his brother, John, about participating in the Boston-New York AIDS Ride. The five-day ride had a fundraising goal of $3,500 per rider, and he easily hit the mark. “The magic of the rides is not raising money or the fact of a particular disease, but that it’s anybody who has a problem that’s serious and a whole bunch of other people who try to do something about it,” he said, adding that a friendly competition has existed between him and his brother for years. “He wanted to give me an opportunity to share in it.”
O’Meara grew up in the time when the civil rights movement was prompting all sorts of backlash across the country. A 1970 graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, and a political science major, his military career took him to Turkey, among other places, over the course of 13 years. His parents raised him to treat everyone with respect regardless of his or her background.
“As you mature, you realize more and more that everyone is the same—and you also realize that the more you have, it’s just a bigger opportunity to share with other people, and this is a biblical statement,” said O’Meara. “Initially, you say, ‘I’m in this group of people.’ But as you gain experience, you learn more and more that no matter how distressed people are, they are just like me.”
“Tom’s heart is so big, he’s going to be there for people in need. He sees people’s hearts, and the rest doesn’t matter to him,” said Smith. “Rich, poor, gay, straight, cyclist, couch potato: Tom doesn’t care. If you have a good heart, Tom is your friend. And once he’s your friend, you have one of the most loyal, giving, kind friends you’ll ever have.”
At The Fowler Law Firm, O’Meara works with a range of couples and individuals in dealing with issues of estate planning, mediation and real estate. Regardless of whether the couple is married or in a domestic partnership, the core issues are the same and he counsels his clients to remain calm in situations where they are most likely afraid and feeling vulnerable.
“If I can project confidence about what we’re doing, maybe they’ll feel better,” he said. “When I talk to people that are making a will together, I ask, ‘what do you really care about?’ No matter who they are.”
Because he was in the military during a time when gay and lesbian service members had to serve in fear, O’Meara recognizes the pervasive, negative impact of discrimination. “I thought, wait a minute, there’s something wrong here. This guy is a terrific clerk for me, and you’re going to take him away because of his sexual orientation?”
Everybody who comes to see him at The Fowler Law Firm has someone they care about, and regardless of who that might be, their common humanity is what he sees. “I’ve been blessed to be in a situation where there are forces that have allowed me to learn this,” said O’Meara. “The AIDS ride is a perfect example, because you might think about it in terms of gay and straight. What about age? I‘m 64 and have friends who are 21, or 37—it’s an incredible expansion of what you can experience in your life.”