Thomas A. Tully, noted Sherlockian, dead at 80

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Walking in to Tom Tully’s family room, you’d swear Sherlock Holmes had just left.

The Tudor-style room had racks filled with deerstalker hats, smoking pipes and a trench coat that looked as if it had just been tossed off the shoulders of the legendary fictional detective.

The room even had a batch of letters stabbed through with a knife, for Arthur Conan Doyle described his greatest creation as “a man who keeps his cigars in the coal-scuttle, his tobacco in the end of a Persian slipper, and his unanswered correspondence transfixed by a jack-knife into the very centre of his wooden mantelpiece.”

The game was afoot for Tom Tully ever since he was a high school freshman introduced to Holmes through a homework assignment to read “The Speckled Band.”

Captivated, he eventually founded the Fellowship of the Fallen Elm — one of countless societies around the globe that keep the detective’s legend alive. He took the name of his group — comprised of friends and relatives — from an adventure in which an elm tree is key, “The Musgrave Ritual.” The Holmes aficionados re-read the stories and discussed them, sometimes also viewing Sherlockian films, at meetings every six weeks or so in his family room.

Doyle’s tales ensorcelled him, said his brother Tim, with “the atmosphere of 1895 England: the fog, the warm fire at 221b Baker Street and the sheer genius of Holmes.” His favorite was “The Hound of the Baskervilles.”

And though Benedict Cumberbatch, Robert Downey and Jonny Lee Miller have embodied compelling versions of Holmes in modern times, Mr. Tully preferred two earlier portrayals: Basil Rathbone’s majestic movie sleuth and the twitchy, elegant brilliance of Jeremy Brett’s incarnation on British television.

“He was very traditional,” said his daughter, Susan Trapani.

Mr. Tully, 80, died Friday at his home in Huntley. He’d suffered a stroke about 14 months ago.

He grew up a milkman’s son in Back of the Yards, near 55th and Union, graduating in 1953 from St. Ignatius College Prep. Young Tom sharpened his baseball skills playing for the Colts team at Sherman Park and liked going to the movies at the Halfield theater at 54th and Halsted.

He wooed his future wife of 56 years, Diane, by visiting the grocery store where she worked, ostensibly to buy a pop.

In 1954, he signed to play with the Dubuque Packers, a White Sox minor league team. After injuring a rotator cuff, he abandoned his dream of a pitching career.

Mr. Tully worked his way up to vice president at Englewood Electrical Supply. Later, he co-founded Tully Electric.

He raised his family in Chicago and Elmhurst.

His religious faith saw him through a harrowing ordeal with one of his six children. In 1985, his daughter Linda Jean suffered a brain injury when she lost her grip and fell while “skitching” from a Jeep in Milwaukee, where she was a 21-year-old volleyball player for Marquette University.

For 24 years, she remained in a vegetative state. He, his wife and the rest of the Tullys visited her frequently. Linda Jean Tully died in 2009.

Wisconsin authorities considered charging the driver, Marquette basketball player Tom Copa, but decided not to. Mr. Tully’s brother said that was after the grieving father told officials, “Look, this was an accident, this was a bunch of kids out having a good time.”

Reached Wednesday, Copa, who went on to play with the San Antonio Spurs, called Mr. Tully “a very generous person, generous in spirit, very kind and, quite frankly, an inspiration and an example to me.”

Mr. Tully loved the singing of Irish tenor Frank Patterson and Gordon MacRae, star of the movie musicals “Carousel” and “Oklahoma!”

He often prayed to Padre Pio, a friar canonized as a saint in the Roman Catholic Church. “I don’t think there was anyone more ready, who believed in eternal life,” his son said.

His family planned to display statues of Holmes at his wake Wednesday at Gibbons Funeral Home in Elmhurst.

In addition to his wife, son, daughter, and brother, Mr. Tully is also survived by his other daughters, Debra Barr, Laura Castellanos and Maureen Tully; 15 grandchildren and one great-grandchild. A funeral Mass will be said at 10 a.m. Thursday at Ascension of Our Lord Catholic Church in Oakbrook Terrace.

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