By Ken Stone
Tom Saxe, a prickly but prolific Vista sportswriter for decades, also channeled his passion at Palomar College, his alma mater, winning friends and fans among students and staff.
On Tuesday, after two weeks of hospice care at his Vista apartment, the never-married Saxe died of apparently natural causes, said the college. He was 74.
“Tom committed his life – not his professional life but his total life — to what he considered to be his family, the Palomar College Athletic Department,” the school’s athletic director said Friday.
Scott Cathcart, 12-year AD at the San Marcos school, said Saxe’s long hours of dedicated effort as sports information director “benefited literally thousands of individual student athletes and brought positive recognition and notoriety to our coaches and teams regionally, statewide and even on the national stage.”
Saxe was being remembered this week for his devotion to school sports and dedication to local news.
“He chronicled youth sports in Vista like nobody else in history,” said Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Don Bartletti, who worked with Saxe at The Vista Press at the start of a career that ended in 2015 at the Los Angeles Times.
“He was good at it,” said Vistan Bartletti, whose assignments included prep sports. “He got personal quotes. He described athletes and games very accurately. And he was prolific in his daily output. He could write stories first draft every time.”
Saxe was at the Vista daily before Bartletti started working there in 1972.
He recalled football games with Saxe running up and down the sidelines with his notebook, “madly scrambling notes,” interviewing players and coaches.
“He was super-hyper,” he said. “Real jittery sort of.”
In his newsroom office, Saxe would be at his typewriter “just pounding away like crazy,” Bartletti said in a phone interview. “He’d never look up. Turned out a lot of copy. [He was] dedicated to the philosophy and purpose of the paper, which was local news.”
Saxe was known to be declining physically and mentally in recent years, and had a heart condition.
Cathcart said Saxe last worked at Palomar during the 2019 men’s basketball season, when he kept the official scorebook — player and team stats.
“That’s a pressure-cooker. … That’s the official book,” said Cathcart, retiring at the end of the academic year. “He finished out the season.”
He saluted Saxe for launching the school’s first athletic website and going the extra mile by reporting on former Palomar athletes who starred at four-year schools, the minor and major leagues in baseball and the NFL.
“Somebody would have a good game or make a good play or be drafted by the NFL, and Tom would have that story,” Cathcart told Times of San Diego.
Saxe started work at Palomar in 1995 but was a high school junior when he wrote his first story — previewing Palomar’s football season — in the early ’60s.
“In his last days, he was under 24-hour care in his apartment,” Cathcart said. “The hospice people did a terrific job. He wasn’t alone.”
A “very opinionated” Saxe fought his illness every step of the way, he said. He “had something to say about everything.”
When Cathcart launched the school’s athletic Hall of Fame in 2012, Saxe was the first inductee — as a contributor (although he also ran cross country and track in his student days).
Funeral services weren’t known, but the Palomar athletic department is planning an open house potluck to celebrate Saxe’s life at 11 a.m. May 22 in the foyer of the college’s geodesic Dome arena.
Twin brothers Matt and Brett Woychak recalled Saxe with fondness.
“My brother and I maintained good contact with him over the years on Facebook, sharing stories and saying hi every once in a while,” said Brett of Escondido, a firefighter, who was a Palomar red-shirt baseball player in 2000. “He was a very fiery guy during games! Giving umpires hard times when calls didn’t go the Comets’ way.”
Matt Woychak of San Diego, a Cal Fire firefighter, played baseball at Palomar from 2000-2002 as a pitcher out of San Pasqual High School.
“Tom and I immediately became great friends the first few months of school,” Matt said. “Tom’s laugh always brought a smile to my face. He always amazed me at how well he could remember names, stats, plays in pretty much any sport at Palomar.”
Matt said Saxe never missed a game, and “his pencil never missed a play.”
He’ll always remember Saxe screaming at umpires after a bad call.
“Coach [Bob] Vetter sometimes had to settle him down,” he said. “That’s the passion he had for all the sports teams…. I can tell you his Palomar family really, really loved him.”
Thomas Dewitt Saxe Jr. was born Oct. 17, 1944, the son of Dewitt and Elizabeth Saxe, according to an obituary prepared by the college.
Originally from Wichita, Kansas, Dewitt Saxe was a retired U.S. Navy veteran who moved his family to Vista, which became Tom’s lifelong residence.
As a Palomar College student, Saxe served as sports editor of The Telescope school newspaper. He later attended Brigham Young University and San Diego State.
“Although his official start date at Palomar College is marked as April 24, 1995, Tom Saxe’s association with the Comet Athletics program dates back to the 1960s,” the school said. “As a sports information director, statistician and website administrator, his personal efforts literally put Palomar College on the California Community College athletics map.”
Saxe was hired as Palomar’s first-ever sports information director by the late Director of Athletics Ward “Rusty” Myers.
After college, Saxe became sports editor of The Vista Press and San Marcos Courier, the sister weekly, and wrote periodically for The San Diego Union, Los Angeles Times, Oceanside Blade-Tribune, Escondido Times-Advocate and North County Times.
Under his guidance, The Vista Press became the first paper in San Diego County to regularly cover girls high school and women’s community college athletic events, the college said.
Beginning in 1996 and through the 2017-18 academic year, Saxe also served as information director for the Pacific Coast Athletic Conference.
Saxe is survived by three cousins, including Sharon Medley, who with her husband, Dan, lives in Nampa, Idaho, and Sharon’s sisters, Sandra Turk and Susan Fitzpatrick, both of Ceres, south of Modesto.
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