Thom Dombkowski, Former IML Head Judge, Passes Away

Thom Dombkowski

Thom Dombkowski

CHICAGO – Just as he affected people across the country as a leatherman, Thom Dombkowski’s passing last week sent shock waves from Chicago to Seattle.

Thom passed away early in the morning of Thursday, April 20, at his home. He had been hospitalized with a severe illness and had been seriously ill for two weeks. His partner James was with him at the time.

Thom was most well-known from his time working with International Mr. Leather in Chicago. He first got involved with the organization in 1980, when he competed for Mr. Gold Coast Leather. He didn’t win, but he did assist (and date) the winner in his bid for the IML title.

After that, he was involved in many aspects of IML, most prominently as Head Judge, a position he held for nine years until he retired in 2001. He also served as a charity liaison, press liaison, speechwriter, tallymaster and judges’ coordinator.

Even after his retirement from IML, he remained active in the contest system. He judged contests all over the country, most recently the 2006 Mr. Chicago Leather contest. He also served as a judge in such contests as International Ms. Leather, International Mr. Drummer, International Mr. Deaf Leather, American Brotherhood, Mr. Leatherman Toronto, Mr. Chicago Leather, Mr. San Francisco Leather, Mr. Midwest Leather, Mr. Ebony Leather, Mr. Maryland Leather, Mr. Michigan Leather, Oklahoma Mr. Leather, Mr. Louisiana Leather, Mr. Mid-Atlantic Leather, Mr. Padlock Leather, Mr. Long Beach Leather, Mr. North Coast Leather, Mr. Philadelphia Leather, Mr. Boston Leather, and CellBlock Leatherman,

He had also recently help found the Chicago Leather Kennel Club, an organization in Chicago to help current and prospective leather contestants. He had become a mentor to many of those who had joined the group. “I will always remember his laughs, his intelligence, his worldly approach and his dedication to the community,” wrote CellBlock Leatherman 2006 Todd Davidson in an email to the CLKC. “He had so much knowledge to give when ever I talked with him, I couldn’t write fast enough to get it all down.”

Andy Mangels, Mr. Oregon Leather 2005 and himself a former IML judge, remembered Thom fondly. “I’ve known Thom for over a decade, perhaps significantly more. I don’t recall when I first met him, but I have lots of memories of the tall, handsome man who always wore his jumpsuit unzipped enough to show some inviting fur, whose salt-and-pepper beard was always neatly trimmed, and who was always ready with a hug even though we only saw each other once a year,” he said. “We had many long conversations in the lobby of the IML host hotel, deep into the morning as we watched dog-slaves wrestle, leather peacocks preening, or stalwarts of the community fall asleep in their comfy chairs after holding court.”

Thom was also very active in the larger community. While he lived in Chicago, his home from 1974 on, he worked for the Chicago Department of Health where he helped give more than $150 million in funding to community AIDS organizations. He also worked for and helped groups such as the Howard Brown Medical Center, the Midwest’s largest GLBT health center, where he served as a staff writer. He also helped found Chicago House, a residence and support service for those living with AIDS in Chicago, eventually becoming their second executive director. He also served on the Mayor’s Gay and Lesbian Advisory Council in Chicago.