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The life of Tim Denton

A musical, inquisitive and spiritual life

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Last week, the Herald reported the death of friend and colleague Timothy John Denton on Nov. 14, at age 67, in Manhasset. Co-workers from Herald Community Newspapers and Richner Communications offered words of remembrance of their friend Tim. Many noted his wisdom and quick wit. But Denton, a California transplant, was known among those closest to him as an animated, keenly talented and highly spiritual man.

He was born on July 9, 1953, in Los Angeles, the third of Earl and Vita Denton’s four children. He and his brothers, William and Ross, and their sister, Laurel, spent their formative years in Whittier, 20 miles southeast of Los Angeles.

In 1958, when Tim was 5, according to Laurel, the family moved to Arroyo Grande, a small town in central California. Earl Denton was a school district superintendent, born and raised in Los Angeles and a “city guy,” Laurel said. Vita was an English teacher.

Their parents’ backgrounds in academia spurred her brother’s interest in learning, she said. “He was a reader from the time he’d just learned how,” Laurel recalled. “He started reading before anyone else, and he quickly began reading a lot of books — and talking about music.”

Coupled with Denton’s early craving for knowledge was an insatiable appetite for music — listening to, discussing and eventually learning how to play it. “He was attracted to classical music, even as a child,” Laurel said. “That was the music that we had in the house, yes, but he was attracted to it on his own.”

By the time he attended Arroyo Grande High School, she said, he had become a dedicated musician, as well as an unofficial follower of the hippie movement, which was at its height in California as Tim grew up. “He had long hair and wore his sandals to school,” his sister recounted. “These things were frowned upon at the time. Our father was very strait-laced, so you could say there was a rebellious side to Tim.”

Throughout high school, Denton honed his musical talents, playing violin — his first instrumental love, followed later by the cello and the piano — in the school orchestra, and attending summer music camps. He also sang in the school choir. Laurel said that his emotional connection to music was a microcosm of his life. “He experienced the highest of highs and lowest of lows in music,” she said. “He would get extremely ecstatic to extremely frustrated quickly.”

After he graduated from high school, Tim studied music at Whittier College, near his early childhood home. There Laurel remembers him living in a house just off campus with 10 other musicians. She recalls visiting frequently for cotillions and celebrations, and Tim mingling enthusiastically with fellow lovers of music and culture.

After college, he became a studio musician in Los Angeles and a member of the Roger Wagner Master Chorale. Then, in the late 1970s, he had an opportunity to travel to Vienna to study music. “He was so excited,” Laurel said.

Tim remained in Vienna for roughly six years, she said, joining an ensemble, studying conducting and expanding his cultural interests. When he returned to the U.S., he settled in New York City. At that point, a friend had persuaded him to become an English teacher for non-English speakers. But, his sister said, “He was a writer, more so,” she said.

As the turn of the century neared, Denton was offered a job as a reporteer at Standard & Poor’s. Finance and its political repercussions were also areas that interested him. But around the same time, he renewed his interest in spiritual development. He had grown up in the Episcopal church, and as a boy was tasked with doing a comparative study of other religions to prepare for his confirmation. As an adult in New York in the mid-1990s, he became a Buddhist.

“When I met Tim, he was in the process of diving deeper into his study of Buddhism,” said Susan Salem, a longtime close friend.

He eventually became a Buddhist priest — while working as a financial reporter in Downtown Manhattan during the business day. Salem said he gradually became more focused on his spirituality, and after working at Standard & Poor’s, he moved to Long Island and got involved in the Holy Trinity Orthodox Church in East Meadow.

“He was always trying to learn more, and he wanted so desperately to share his spiritual gifts, both in Buddhism and in the Orthodox Church,” Salem said. And music remained important to him. He joined the church’s choir, which played an integral role in its prayer services. He even contributed to a recorded holiday album by the choir, according to Salem.

As his faith and spirituality grew, so too did his relationship with Salem’s son, Jesse, who became his godson. The pair spent a lot of time together, going to carnivals, car dealerships, movies, bowling alleys, the mall. They formed a close bond, and Tim often spoke about his love for Jesse.

“Tim became a like a second father to me, especially this past year,” said Jesse, who’s now 18. “All throughout my life, I really began to realize how much he treated me like his own.” Tim never had children of his own, but Jesse said he felt as if Tim considered him one.

Denton is also survived by four nieces, Sarah Denton, Julie Fiumara, Wendy Heard and Elizabeth Denton, and a nephew, Andy Denton.

In 2017, the Herald Community Newspapers hired Denton as an assistant editor, and he was promoted just weeks later. At the time of his death, he was the senior editor of the Wantagh and Seaford Herald-Citizens. His in-depth reporting and sharp intellect made him a highly respected local journalist.