Raley Thomas “Tom” Amabile was born on September 3, 1931 in Irvington, NJ. He graduated from Arts High School, Newark, NJ where he acquired his love of music, especially opera. He sang in many glee clubs and choirs—one of which was the Mens Maplewood New Jersey Glee Club. He graduated from Fairleigh Dickinson University in Rutherford, NJ and served in the United States Army from 1955 to 1957.
In 1990, after 32 1/2 years, he retired from PSE&G as a network analyst specialist. While at PSE&G he established the mixed chorus which performed many concerts, including a special performance featuring Metropolitan Opera Singer Jerome Hines. The chorus lived on after he retired and continued to visit many local nursing homes, performing for their residents throughout the years.
A self-taught winemaker, Tom began making wine for friends and family as a hobby and ultimately founded Cream Ridge Winery in 1988 with his wife Joan. He was a pioneer in the making of many fruit wines and received numerous medals as well as the 2005 Governor’s Cup --the highest award in the state -- for Cherry Wine, and Cream Ridge Winery was named New Jersey’s first “Winery of the Year.” He loved teaching about the wine making process and did so at Middlesex Community College.
Along with his passion for winemaking, Tom truly loved opera and sacred music. He was a member of Resurrection Lutheran Church where he sang in the choir and led a weekly Bible study. His funeral service was at the Brenna Funeral Home, in Trenton, NJ, where dozens of friends and family have passed through. I know it's hallways an parlors. All the more reason why I felt bad I had not known.
I had not seen Tom in years. Even then I am not sure he would have remembered me if I had suddenly arrived. I had been there countless times and he had answered every question, and he did it all with a smile on his face, and a wave of his hand inviting me inside, to the back of the house. I was not the only one. He befriended dozens like me over the years, and he was just as generous with each. That was Tom. He had no luck growing grapes, but he could make other fruits shine as wine. His Cream Ridge Cherry Ciliegia Amabile was a revelation at the time.
I haven't spent as much time in New Jersey as I used to, and I am surprised how long ago my last visit was. When I visited last he was not there. But the memories of a very, very generous man are as clear as they ever were. Like it was yesterday. And I am ever grateful, humbled. And it occurs to me that the east coast winemaking community has lost a very valuable man. We could all learn something from his manner. He was one of the people whose shoulders we all stand on today.
To see my previous piece on Tom: