The Arts Council of Greater New Haven has had a love affair with Tom Luckey ever since 1986 when he brought a model of his portable Merry-Go-Round to the office. It was a work of art by a mechanical genius, one of the most playful people we had ever met. We had never seen anything like his creation and we became Tom Luckey fans and supporters forever. We managed to get him funding from the Gannet Media Company, who had offices in New Haven at that time; and we introduced him to a vast array of artists and patrons who gleefully joined his throng of merrymakers and became lifelong friends. -Bitsie Clark
Thomas Walker Luckey, an artist, sculptor and architect renowned for his one-of-a-kind climbing sculptures, died Sunday, August 19 at Yale New Haven Hospital at the age of 72 from complications of pneumonia. A graduate of the Yale School of Architecture, Tom’s fascination with movement and his desire to create positive spaces inspired a diverse portfolio including merry go-rounds, a convertible staircase/slide, and the iconic “Luckey Climbers” that have delighted children and adults alike, in cities across America and the world.
Tom Luckey was a visionary, a creative genius, a legendary optimist, an exuberant showboat, and an infamous fun-maker. He was an avid collector of friends, regardless of age; all that mattered was whether you were willing to take a leap with him towards his ultimate goal: superlative joy.
Tom was born on January 6, 1940 in Quantico, VA, on the Marine Corps base where his family was stationed. His parents were Cary Dabney Walker and Robert Burneston Luckey, Lt. Gen. USMC. His grandparents were General Merriwether Lewis Walker and Edith Colby Carey (maternal) and George B. Luckey and Alice Owens (paternal). Tom was the quintessential military brat, moving frequently throughout his childhood.
Even in those early years, Tom showed a unique ability to envision and bring to life imagined forms. He was always working with his hands and led by his dreams. From simple carvings, he built up to larger projects including a little cottage on Martha’s Vineyard, which he built when he was 16. He eventually settled in Branford, CT, where he subjected his house to imaginative additions and modifications for more than 35 years.
Throughout his career, Tom welcomed challenges and was stimulated by obstacles. He embraced uncertainty in his art and adapted to unanticipated hurdles. Most recently, he suffered a tragic accident that left him paralyzed from the shoulders down. This was a change in his life most would find impossible, but Tom was often heard to say that “falling on my head was the best thing that ever happened to me.” It was a brave statement that he somehow made believable with his remarkable wit and optimism. Indeed, his career took off and his social life flourished during the final chapters of his life, testament to his remarkable talent and insatiable curiosity.
Tom leaves behind his wife, Ettie Minor Luckey, and their children, daughter Kit and son Walker, as well as two older children, daughter Owen and son Spencer from his first marriage to Elizabeth T. Mason. He is also survived by his sister, Laura, brother, William, and three grandchildren.