Friday, June 21, 2024

Thomas Morton Mustin (1941-2022)

Coronado Legend Tom Mustin Dies at 81

Submitted by the family

Thomas Morton Mustin died peacefully of advanced cancer on July 5 in his favorite town in all the world, Coronado, California. His beloved wife of 28 years, Jean Phillips Mustin, was holding one hand, and Andy Root, the stepson he adored, was holding the other. He was 81.

Mustin Family 1940s

Tom was born in Annapolis, MD on Feb. 11, 1941, into a distinguished Navy family spanning seven generations, whose military achievements trace back to the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, both sides of the the Civil War, WW II, and Vietnam. He was the third child of  Navy Lt. Lloyd Montague Mustin and the former Emily Proctor Morton of Annapolis, who were twenty and seventeen when they married. They adored each other for 58 years, until Emily’s death in 1988.

CHS Football, 1958

As with most nomadic Navy families, Tom attended various schools on both coasts, finally landing at Coronado High School, class of 1958, where he excelled both academically and on the football field and forged friendships that would last his lifetime.

Tom’s maroon 1947 Ford convertible, top down and overflowing with school pals, was a familiar sight parked outside of popular hangout Oscars Drive-in (current location of Nado Republic Restaurant). Pat Moyle Flynn remembers Tom’s “really, really original sense of humor, but,” she adds, “above all else, he was sooooo smart – just lightyears-ahead smart.” Ky Winchester Roberts will tell you about the Sunday the whole gang went to the Tijuana bullfights and somehow Tom made a wrong turn and ended up in the Tijuana jail for the night. When Ky went down the next day to bail him out, the first thing she heard as she passed through the jail gates was Tom’s rich baritone voice raised in song, his fellow inmates joining in the chorus of “We Shall Overcome.” They were convinced Tom The Great Liberator had the power to spring them all.

Da Boyz at Oscars, 1958

After graduation from CHS, and following in the footsteps of his older brother, father, uncle, both grandfathers, and his great-grandfather, Tom entered the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, graduating in 1962. He held a Masters degree in Operations Analysis from Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey.

Tom and his brother Hank Mustin, Vietnam, 1967

After three deployments to the Tonkin Gulf in Guided Missile destroyers, Tom was assigned to a year in the shallows of the treacherous jungle rivers of Vietnam, part of the River Patrol Force (PBR’s). The small, fiberglass boats, or Riverines, were used to search and destroy large Viet Cong guerilla operations that were disrupting communications and supplies in the Mekong Delta. Because casualties ran high, the PBR 4-man crews were cross-trained, ready to take over immediately if necessary. After his CO was killed in a firefight, Tom assumed command of his boat, at age 26. For his performance, he received a personal letter of gratitude from VADM F.J. Blouin, USN, Commander Amphibious Force, US Pacific Fleet, and was awarded the Navy Bronze Star with Combat “V”, the Navy Commendation Medal with Combat “V”, and various other personal, campaign, and expeditionary awards. It was there that he was exposed to Agent Orange, the cause of the cancer that would eventually kill him.

Three Mustins (l to r) Hank, Lloyd, Tom

With Tom as one of four namesake Mustins with over a century of combined Navy service, the Arleigh Burke class Guided Missile Destroyer USS MUSTIN (DDG-89) was commissioned on July 26, 2003 alongside Naval Air Station pier in Coronado in an evening ceremony with 7000 guests in attendance. In addition to Tom, the ship is named in honor of his grandfather, pioneer Naval aviator #11 and inventor of the catapult, Capt. Henry C. Mustin (1874-1923), his father, VADM. Lloyd M. Mustin (1911-1999), and his brother, VADM Henry C. (“Hank”) Mustin (1933-2016). The ship is currently home-ported in San Diego.

After eleven years’ service, Tom left the Navy as a Lt. Commander to enter Harvard Law School, graduating in 1976. He practiced law successfully for twenty years with the firm of Latham and Watkins in Los Angeles, where he was a litigating partner. His friend and former law partner Peter Benzian of Coronado says, “We’ll always remember Tom as a soldier, a scholar, a partner and a friend. His wit, eloquence, and his unique ability to swear creatively and humorously will be sorely missed.”

Tom Mustin was a man of varied interests and passions. He was a Hemingway kind of guy: warrior, Marlin fisherman, gun enthusiast, and hunter of big game in Africa, Alaska, Arizona, and California. He was a storyteller extraordinaire who loved his family, his friends, his dogs, his vodka, Navy football, raging storms, roaring fires, good books, excellent food, and fine cigars. And, most of all, he loved his wife Jean.

His taste in music was eclectic to say the least: A Rolling Stones fan to the core, he would travel far and wide to attend a Stones concert. He knew the words to every song, which he would belt out along with Mick Jagger at parties in that great, booming voice of his. But he was also a lover of classical music, especially Beethoven and Mozart, often declaring that the most powerful piece of music ever written was Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Except, sometimes, it was ‘Honky Tonk Woman’ by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. A tossup.

Singing some Stones with nephews Larry Baldauf, Tom Mustin, Lloyd Mustin, and Honorary nephew Rick Chapman (far left). 1992

He was part of a big, fun, extended, multi-generational family of adults, kids, grandkids, cousins, nieces, nephews, and in-laws on every side, who enjoyed being together, with “Uncle Tom” always at the center of it all, the absolute hero of the younger set. He remained single for many years, everyone just assuming he’d be a bachelor forever, until Jean Phillips Root came on the scene and he fell head over heels in love like a teenager! They were married – one month before his fifty-third birthday – at a spectacular black tie wedding at the L.A./ Hancock Park home of Latham law partner Steve Wilson and his wife, Claire, on New Year’s Day, 1994, at 12:01 a.m. (reportedly an IRS-related decision). After Tom retired from the law firm, he and Jean moved to Coronado, where they spent many happy years in the big house on J Avenue, his hunting trophies on proud display in the Great Room with its 25’ ceiling, welcoming assorted family, friends, cats and dogs to enjoy the good times as the fire crackled in the giant fireplace.

Tom and Jean’s Wedding. New Year’s Day 1994

Along with his marriage to Jean came a bonus, ready-made family of four smart, wonderful children – three beautiful daughters and a son – all of whom are married now with children of their own. Andy’s son Hunter, age 8 months, made grandchild #8 for “Pappy.” Hunter wore his little Rolling Stones t-shirt when he visited Tom that final time.

Tom’s nephew, VADM. John B. Mustin, USN, wrote to him in a last email, “Your influence on all of us will live for generations. I’ll always remember your wise (sometimes cynical) counsel when I wanted or needed someone with an unbiased perspective. One of my favorites was at your house in the Hollywood Hills, when I asked if you thought I should resign from the Navy and go to law school. Your answer was, ‘The last thing the world needs is another lawyer; the Navy needs you!’”

Nephew Lloyd Mustin wrote, “Uncle T, you have always been the family idol of our generation. You combined the physicality and swagger of Clint Eastwood with the intellectual capacity of Albert Einstein…You have been an inspiration to us all.”

“He was a lion of a man,” says Tom’s sister Doug St. Denis of Coronado, “that’s the only way to describe him. He was big, strong, fast, fearless, brilliant, hilariously funny, irreverent, and a star athlete, always. He stood at the top of every class, had a fiercely wicked wit, and a vocabulary that sent us all running for our dictionaries. He was the brother every girl should have, a loyal friend, and a true gentleman (except when he wasn’t), and, oh, how we adored him. He was supposed to live forever. ”

In addition to his wife Jean, he leaves four stepchildren and their spouses, Kimberly Sandifer (Dominic) of Westwood, Kristen McIntosh (Christian) of Belvedere, Catherine Browning (Adam) of Pacific Palisades, Andrew Root (Katherine) of San Diego, and eight grandchildren. He also leaves his sister Doug, his sister-in-law Lucy Mustin of Arlington, VA, ten Mustin/Baldauf/St. Denis nieces and nephews, their spouses, their children, cousins galore and a zillion friends. Tom and Doug’s brother, VADM “Hank” Mustin, died in 2016, as did Doug’s husband, architect Dale St. Denis.

A private celebration of Tom’s life will be held in Coronado over Labor Day weekend, followed by a service at the Naval Academy Chapel in Annapolis (date pending). His ashes will be interred in the USNA cemetery close to other family members.

In lieu of flowers, tax-deductible donations to the Warrior Foundation – Freedom Station “In memory of Tom Mustin” – would be welcome and appreciated. Checks may be mailed to 1223 ½ 28th St., Suite A, San Diego, CA 92102. Phone (619) 578- 2615.

Submitted by the family



Managing Editor
Managing Editor
Originally from upstate New York, Dani Schwartz has lived in Coronado since 1996. She is happy to call Coronado home and to have raised her children here. In her free time she enjoys reading, exercising, trying new restaurants, and just walking her dog around the "island." Have news to share? Send tips or story ideas to: [email protected]

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