Tom Eaton, whose whimsical and wacky illustrations over three decades enlivened iconic Boys’ Life characters like Pedro the Mailburro and Dink and Duff, died Dec. 11, 2016, in Kansas City, Mo. He was 76.
Anyone who has picked up a copy of Boys’ Life magazine from 1984 through 2015 has seen Eaton’s work.
Each month, the young (and the young at heart) rushed to the mailbox, many flipping straight to Eaton’s cartoons. While Scouts saw pure entertainment, adults recognized life lessons hidden in Eaton’s words and drawings.
Eaton wrote and illustrated “The Wacky Adventures of Pedro,” “Dink and Duff,” “Webelos Woody,” and several other comics and puzzles for the magazine.
Eaton did not create Pedro, but he is responsible for the way millions of Boys’ Life readers picture the alliterative, amiable, alfalfa-adoring mailburro mascot of Boys’ Life magazine.
“Tom was the heart and soul of our beloved mailburro for three decades,” says Michael Goldman, editorial director of Boys’ Life. “And, really, he always will be. Every Pedro comic, every Hitchin’ Rack response, every Boys’ Life carries a bit of Tom Eaton in it.”
Pursuing a passion
Thomas N. Eaton was born March 2, 1940, in Wichita, Kan. In college, he studied engineering at the University of Kansas but always loved drawing and cartooning. So he made a life-changing decision.
“I realized one day that I would probably make a mediocre engineer,” he told Scouting magazine in our January-February 2016 issue. “Whereas I would probably make a better cartoonist if I followed my passion.”
How right he was. He began a career at Hallmark Cards in Kansas City before being drafted into the Army and serving for two years. One of his Army jobs was applying stage makeup to pretend patients so doctors could practice battlefield surgery.
After his service, Eaton returned to Hallmark and later worked at Scholastic Books in New York. Eaton and his wife, Shara, then returned to Kansas City so he could pursue a freelance career.
And that’s how Eaton began his long association with Boys’ Life magazine.
He ‘really defined Pedro’s look’
Joe Connolly was art director at BL when Eaton took over as Pedro’s sidekick.
“Tom had the gift of both writing and illustrating, which is rare,” Connolly, who retired from the BSA in 2005, told Scouting. “He really defined Pedro’s look for the next 30-plus years.”
He also defined Pedro’s voice. Elaborate word play and alliteration were commonplace on Pedro’s “Wacky Adventures,” and Eaton was the man behind the voice.
For example, look at the May 2005 edition, which begins with this bit of brilliance: “Our dowdy donkey has devised a devious but delightful departure for a dapper dandy: digital duds.”
When Pedro wasn’t speaking to him — an affliction known as writer’s block — Eaton would go for a bike ride. He found that the fresh air provided inspiration to dream up Pedro’s latest scheme.
With Eaton by his side, Pedro traveled to ancient Rome and the planet Zorg. He was chased by prehistoric creatures and time-traveled to the early days of Philmont Scout Ranch. He battled his evil twin Ordep and tasted alfalfa ice cream for the first time.
But Eaton himself led a much more down-to-earth life.
“Some of the kids may think I’ve had the kind of adventures Pedro has, but really, I’ve had a fairly normal life,” Eaton told Scouting. “I’ve enjoyed things like biking, swimming and playing with our dogs.”
Eaton was an animal lover throughout his life. In an almost 50-year marriage to Shara, the couple rescued 17 dogs and eight cats.
Later in his life, Lewy body dementia slowed Eaton down, but he and his wife continued to walk their dog, Cinnamon, twice a day.
A memorial gathering for friends and family will be scheduled later. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations may be made to Kansas City Hospice House or Great Plains SPCA.
Samples of Tom Eaton’s work