Thomas Rollerson always follows his heart rather than his wallet.
In 1989, he gave up his corporate job in sales and marketing to advocate for accessibility to the arts for those with a disability, working as the national company manager and tour director for Access Theater in Santa Barbara. In 1994, Thomas founded The Dream Foundation, the internationally renowned organization that grants end-of-life wishes to the terminally ill and their families. He resigned from that organization in 2014, ready for another challenge.
In person, Thomas is charismatic and charming, but also very direct. As he sits down to lunch, he tells me there are misconceptions of what he’s actually doing, and that he’s been super busy. What is clear of Thomas’s wonderful trajectory is that he’s always being a caregiver.
Case in point: this coming Wednesday night at the Lobero Theatre, he and Rod Lathim are producing a free concert called entitled LIV ON. It features Amy Sky, Olivia Newton-John, and Beth Nielsen Chapman singing acoustic songs that are meant to soothe anyone who is facing a challenge in their lives, whether it is grieving a loss or seeking health and recovery.
Rod is the one who brought Thomas to Santa Barbara to work at Access with the disabled playwright Neal Marcus. After meeting Neal, Thomas fully understood that handicap is really only perception. His own mother suffered from MS, yet he realized, “My mom was fully present in a disabled body.”
Previously, Thomas was a casting director for The Atmosphere Agency and executive vice president at G.S.G. Publishing. He recalls a pivotal moment when they hit record sales, and he bought a briefcase at Louis Vuitton. To this day, he keeps it as a reminder of that period in his life when material gains had a greater value.
Around that time he met Timothy Scott Palmer, who became his life partner. They moved to Santa Barbara together, Timm following his own dream to become a documentary filmmaker and to fight for equal rights.
In 1992, Timm was diagnosed with AIDS in 1992. As he struggled with the ruthlessness of the disease, Timm wanted to see current films, but faced physical challenges of getting into movie theaters. Thomas reached out to movie studios for help, and they responded. From those generous acts of kindness, The Dream Foundation was born.
At Timm’s request, Thomas promised to continue to help others in their final wishes, and would do so in Timm’s name. “Timm Pushed me down this path,” says Thomas.
Today, Thomas runs a consulting service that forges strategic partnerships and develops ambassador programs with the goal of generating funds and genuine awareness for organizations whose mission is to impact the greater good. He works for companies both in the private and public sectors, from Carl’s Jr. to Hasbro Toys, teaching them how their intention for giving can have the greatest impact and return for their investment. “I match donors with causes and do a lot of vetting on their behalf,” he explained.
To this day, Thomas Rollerson is an advocate for all things good. He answers the Proust Questionnaire.
What is the quality you most dislike in people?
People who put financial and social gain above the good of others, those who misuse wealth and power.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
Everything can be improved but I’m happy with my heart
What do you like most about your job?
Having purpose that impacts the good of others. I appreciate the diversity of my projects and the people. I’m grateful to use my decades of non-profit experience to strategically advise funders on giving with the most measurable outcomes. Vetting is where lies the good.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Helping others, corny but true. I feel most happy when I can contribute to the happiness of others, I believe that is true for most people. My other happy spot is with my husband traveling and having uninterrupted time together.
What is your greatest fear?
Malicious people and the rise of corrupt leaders. And mosquitoes.
Who do you most admire?
My husband and sister-in-law for their strength and humor. My step-mom for living a life of simple grace and continuing to do so now even with ALS with undeniable positivity and gratitude for each day. My 90-year-old father’s resilience and independence and that he still shaves everyday. I do not. I admire caregivers, and the unsung heroes behind every cause. I admire those who live with trauma both locally and globally and survivors of genocide.
What is your greatest extravagance?
What is your current state of mind?
Changes by the minute. Awkward doing an interview about myself but in general grateful.
What is the quality you most like in people?
Authenticity, kindness, and compassion.
What do you most value in friends?
Loyalty, unconditional love, and those that still use a phone to talk.
What is your most marked characteristic?
That I speak from my heart.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
Which talent would you most like to have?
Total recall. Especially names, faces, and shared moments.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Without hesitation my greatest achievement is that I have been twice blessed with love. My husbands. My husband insists that I say being the founder of the Dream Foundation and the Flower Empower and Toy Program. Which I am. I am equally proud of advocating for accessibility in the arts for five years prior to Dream, and my work now with Advocates For All Things Good.
Where would you most like to live?
On the water traveling the world.
What is your most treasured possession?
Our dog Cane, my belated husband’s crucifix, my water bottle, and laptop which hold my writings and photographs. Packing up as often as our community has done with our recent disasters, we have been repeatedly reminded that all your treasures have meaning but your greatest treasure is each other.
Who makes you laugh the most?
My husband and our best friends. Our newly arrived chicks.
What is your motto?
With each life chapter it changes. Follow your heart. Through adversity comes greatness. There have been some traumatic times in the past few years so, as of my birthday April 21, it’s “Return to love!”
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
This is a hard one. Obama, post-administration. C.S. Lewis. Winnie the Pooh.
On what occasion do you lie?
Starbucks. I like to try on new names and make the baristas smile.