Kitchener’s Tommy Keating founded the punk metal band Atomic Tomb

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There was no doubt, Tommy Keating admired rock stars and tried to emulate the sex, drugs, and rock and roll lifestyles they lived. But there was another side to the Kitchener-born musician, who went by the name Tommy Gunn.

“He was one of the smartest people I’ve ever met,” said his friend Ken Gale-Vine. “One of his passions was the history of war.”

Tommy was also astute about all things politics. His Facebook page has several posts on current events as well as heavy metal music as well as several puppies posts. Cute puppies doing cute things. Tommy loved dogs.

Friends said there were sometimes two Tommys – one he tried to portray as the ill-mannered rock star, the other the kind, funny and generous character who seemed to know everyone and took caring for his sick mother until her death. He was also devoted to his late sister Kathy Keating, taking her everywhere, even when he went on dates.

A former girlfriend, Caroline Kalbhenn, recalls Kathy coming over when they went bowling and staying with the couple for the evening. At least until Kathy gets tired of them both and asks to go home.

“She was with us often,” Caroline said.

Tommy was born on January 14, 1962 in Kitchener, the youngest of three. Before starting high school, Tommy established himself as a boy with his own style and didn’t care much about what other people thought. This challenge has drawn negative attention, especially from bullies.

Ken, a year older than Tommy, ended up being his protector. He admired Tommy for his independent spirit and sense of self. They met in college.

“He had a head full of red hair. He was tall and lanky,” Ken said. “He was wearing these red Converse sneakers and a leather jacket. He was very weird.

“I adopted him right away.”

Ken remembers that from those early years, Tommy was passionate about music and had a plan for life: he would be a professional musician. Tommy’s sister, Joan Dahmer, said he started guitar lessons when he was around eight years old.

“He talked about music. He was listening to music. He would advise on what music to listen to,” she said.

The family’s playroom was usually rocking at full volume. At least until his father, John Keating, comes home. Dad was not a fan. Years later, his mother, Marie Keating, a nurse, listened to one of Tommy’s recordings and told her son that the music was truly awful. Of course, she was speaking from the perspective of someone who didn’t particularly like loud profanity music.

In his late teens, Tommy moved to Toronto, often staying with friend and fellow musician Axel Thumm. The two, along with Ron Bechard, founded the punk metal band Atomic Tomb 25 years ago. Tommy had also been in a number of other bands, including Raw Dog, Shock Army and Voodoo Dollies, but it was in Atomic Tomb that he found his creative inspiration.

As a songwriter, Tommy was OK when Axel added or changed lyrics. “Tommy was writing the songs and we were building on them,” Axel said. “He gave me an open hand to put in my own words.”

Tommy was a successful musician and singer-songwriter. But it’s a tough way to make a living, so he reconsidered his options and took an underwater skills course at Seneca College. With a commercial diving accreditation, Tommy began a career welding underwater as well as working with film and television crews for underwater scenes. He also taught scuba diving. It was an exciting career that Tommy mixed with his love of wreck diving. But his stay under water will be short-lived.

His smoking habit affected his lungs and he had to give up diving, Joan said. Tommy then found employment at Toronto Pearson International Airport, working as a facilities maintenance worker, a job he held for 26 years before having to retire as his health deteriorated.

Tommy had had two heart attacks and a stroke in the past few years. His health affected his ability to play, Caroline said, but he was more interested in the quality of the music the band was playing than his own ego. About five months ago, Tommy made the decision to leave the band.

“He had a sense of fairness,” Caroline said. “I think that’s why he was so well-liked.”

The group had really coalesced in recent years, Axel said. They were at the top of their game musically and were just waiting for Tommy to come back. He never did.

On July 18, a neighbor walking his dog stopped by Tommy’s in Milton to check on him. He had died in his sleep. He was 60 years old.

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