Dross, who was born and raised in Conshohocken and lived in California since the 1970s, stipulated in his will that most of his savings go to HIV/AIDS charities.
His estate, managed by his longtime friends David Perry and Alfredo Casuso, earlier this month gave a $1-million gift to the AIDS Emergency Fund. The San Francisco-based agency provides vital funds to people living with the disease. Dross’ bequeath marks the organization’s largest-ever gift.
Perry said Dross stipulated in his will that he wanted his money to support HIV/AIDS agencies and left the funding decisions up to him and Casuso.
“He died so suddenly that we didn’t know quite what his plans were, and when we found the instructions in his will, we were just overwhelmed by his generosity in leaving so much to the community,” Perry said. “Tom donated to AIDS Emergency Fund over the years and that was one of his pet charities. It’s the best example of the ‘San Francisco model,’ with direct care and support to people living with HIV/AIDS. He left the decisions up to us but luckily we’ve known him for 15 years and knew what charities he felt strongly about.”
Over the next few months, Perry said he and Casuso will be making other funding announcements and expect a total of $2.5 million to go to HIV/AIDS groups. The pair is looking into directing some of Dross’ money into Philadelphia-area organizations.
Dross was raised in Conshohocken and attended St. Matthew’s High School and Widener University (then-College) before earning a bachelor’s degree from University of Pennsylvania.
Dross moved to San Francisco in the ’70s and launched a career in the advertising and marketing field. He went on to open Upstairs, Downstairs, a popular restaurant in the city’s financial district.
Perry said Dross did not forget his Pennsylvania roots as he found success on the West Coast.
“He said that Conshohocken was a very blue-collar, working-class community and he loved the area very much,” Perry said. “His mom and his cousins were there. When he came to San Francisco, he remained in touch with all of his family back there.”
Casuso and Dross met about 15 years ago and, when he and Perry became a couple in 1998, the three became quick friends.
“I was coming back from a year-and-a-half abroad and when Alfredo and I decided to move in together as a couple, I hadn’t found a place yet so Tom said, ‘I have an in-law unit in my house, why don’t you guys just live here for a while while you’re looking?’ So our first home together was in Tom’s house. And then our friendship grew from there.”
Perry and Casuso married in California in 2008, before Proposition 8 was passed, and Dross hosted their wedding reception at his home.
Dross helped take care of his sister who was battling cancer and who died last year, as well as his mom, who had moved out to California and who died just four months after he did.
Dross, who was 71, had a massive heart attack Jan. 7.
Perry said his sudden passing was tough on all who knew him.
“It was extremely shocking,” he said. “We were so close and we loved him very much.”
Since his passing, Perry said he and Casuso have seen the full impact their friend had on others — and handling his estate has reinforced that point.
“The thing about Tom that sticks out to me most was he was very kind, very generous,” Perry said. “He died so suddenly, and all of his tenants, his friends, everyone has said the same thing: He was just a kind, nice man. He literally gave a home to us when we were starting out as a couple. The fact he was generous didn’t surprise us, but the amount of his generosity has been kind of staggering.”
Perry said that, as he and Casuso make funding decisions in the coming year, they’re looking forward to people learning about Dross’ life and legacy.
“Tom was a very modest man. We want to make sure that family, friends and people who remember him from Conshohocken know that this local boy not only made good for himself, but was also making good for charity.”