In Memory of Thomas Ingalls (1949-2024)

Designer, Teacher, Publisher, Zen Practitioner, Charter Member of AIGASF and Fabulous Friend

Thomas Moore Ingalls lived at least nine lives—by some accounts, that number might be closer to 27—the last of which concluded on April 10, 2024, shortly before teatime. (If you think we meant to write ‘tee time,’ no worries. Golfer Tom would of course appreciate the pun.) Surrounded by friends and his sister Betsy, Tom succumbed to heart failure. And, boy, what a good-hearted heart it had been.

Tom was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on March 14, 1949, the son of Dr. Edgar G. Ingalls and Mary (a.k.a. Mary from Minnie) Moore Ingalls. In early 1970, he earned his Master of Fine Arts in graphic design from California Institute of the Arts and entered the profession that would remain the passion of his life. Tom's first job as a designer was at LA, a short-lived weekly newspaper in 1972. The next year he co-founded Type City, which took typography and logo commissions from A&M Records, The Grammies, and The Los Angeles Free Press, Among others. Part-time design work for LACMA turned into a full-time job in 1974. Tom moved to San Francisco in 1978 to take the position of art director at Outside. After stints at LA weekly newspaper, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles Magazine, and Rolling Stone, Tom moved to San Francisco in 1978 to assume the position of art director at Outside Magazine. At the suggestion of friends Michael Vanderbyl and Michael Manwaring, he began teaching at California College of the Arts (CCA).

In 1980, Tom hung his Ingalls shingle at 10 Arkansas, at the base of Potrero Hill in San Francisco. The location—easily recognizable by its leafy courtyard, koi pond, and Weber grill always at the ready—became Tom’s professional nexus. It was a delicious destination for his many friends, colleagues, clients, students, and others over the subsequent decades. (At the studio, almost any time could be considered teatime.) 

Photo: Missing Links Press

Tom taught Typography and Packaging at CCA for over 40 years. He loved design in general, typography in particular, and book design most especially. Inside and outside the classroom, he took great pleasure in sharing with everyone Design as Deeply Felt Experience. (“My mantra is design, teach and practice.”) Many of Tom’s students stayed close to him over the years, often beginning their own careers as an intern or junior designer at 10 Arkansas. When they moved on to other opportunities, the friendships deepened, and his former students became permanent fixtures in his orbit. Several are among his closest friends.

The distance from Tom’s studio to CCA was barely more than the length of the tenth hole—par 5, 446 yards—at Berkeley Country Club, where Tom was a longtime member. (He executed the club’s rebrand in 2017, including the signage for the snack shack, between holes 9 and 10, named The Turn.) 

Tom was a charter member of AIGA SF, founded exactly 40 years ago, in April 1984. In 2008, Tom received the AIGA Fellow award. At the time, colleague Petrula Vrontikis began a profile of her friend with: “If you refer to Tom Ingalls as a respected colleague and true friend, take a number. You are in this club along with designers from Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York, foodies from the finest kitchens, gardens and restaurants, Buddhist practitioners along the California Coast, and elite golfers around the world.” Read the full interview with Tom and Petrula here. The next year, Ingalls Design was one of thirteen (yes, a baker’s dozen) local studios whose work was featured in San Francisco Graphic Design, an exhibition at the Museum of Craft and Design.

Indeed, Tom was a designer, typographer, teacher, mentor, publisher, Zen practitioner, raconteur, golfer, skier, bon vivant, foodie, son, brother, and master cook—but his crowning achievement may well be as a cherished friend to so many who deeply feel his absence. Within a day of his passing, ARCH Art Supplies, located on Tom’s walking route between his apartment and the studio, placed his portrait and a note on their counter in tribute to their “dear friend, cheerleader, and advisor” who frequently stopped in, mornings and late afternoons. They spoke on behalf of many friends and colleagues within the design community and the world at large—as well as baristas, chefs, and servers from Tom’s favorite eateries and cafes across San Francisco—when they concluded with: “We miss him already.”

Among the many names by which he was known—Tom, Tommy, Topper, Uncle Tom, The Other Tom, TMI, Don Tomás, Favorite Tom, Chef Klaus, Klausi (the dark chocolate of the Lagerfeld family), Backwards Man, Ron at the Pro Shop, Finn McCool, Bamboo Knox, Sir Grillalot, The Grilling Golfer—he perhaps enjoyed Don Perfecto the most, a title whose irony he donned with the same panache accorded his well-appointed scarves and tartan ties. One need not be perfect to be loved, and Don Perfecto was well loved by many.


Betsy Ingalls fondly remembers her brother as a young boy organizing his colored pencils in a perfect row, practicing his name in various scripts and colors. “He loved to surround himself with beautiful objects even then,” she says. He loved to share his loves, which included but were by no means limited to: cheeses, well-made sausages (Fatted Calf, anyone?), bread, wines, music, stamps, well-wrapped gifts of all sorts, and of course books. And through the years he loved to enjoy time with friends in art galleries, on golf courses and ski slopes, and in silence with zazen.

Tom’s love of the printed page also led to his involvement in several local book-centric organizations:

The SF Center for the Book (a short walk from 10 Arkansas), the Book Club of California, and the Colophon Club. He designed many exhibition catalogs for SFCB, and the current BCC logo. He also infused design into his golfcentricity with the journal of the Shivas Irons Society. His own Missing Links Press published fine art work by poets Jane Hirshfield and Genine Lentine, Japanese artist ​​Mayumi Oda, and others. (His perpetually self-imposed moratorium on acquiring new cookbooks really only meant that he bought one at a time, usually at his favorite Omnivore Books, in Noe Valley.) His drive to share beauty, bounty, and fun lasted a lifetime. No matter the occasion, Tom never turned up empty handed. He also loved to cook for–and with–his friends. We were frequently left with the sense–while grilling with Tom, or dining in a regular spot, or sitting around the table at his favorite San Francisco salon, or drinking tea in the courtyard at 10 Arkansas—that for Don Perfecto the journey was as important as the outcome. Among many other bons mots, he will be remembered for his voicemail call to action—"It’s Tommy, let’s grill!”—by which he meant: “Life is a feast, let’s dig in together.”

Photo: San Francisco Center for the Book, catalog of catalogs printed at the Center, 2018, paper made in Scotland.

In the early 2000s, Tom began his meditation and recovery practice at the San Francisco Zen Center, which became a cornerstone experience for the remainder of his life. He found peace, joy, meaning, laughter, and friendship at SFCZ’s Beginner’s Mind Temple, Tassajara, Green Gulch, Stone Creek, and elsewhere among the many dear friends he found in sangha (community) along the way. He was devoted to his teacher, Zenkei Blanche Hartman, and from her received Jukai (lay ordination) and perhaps his most cherished moniker of all: the Dharma name Dainin, or Great Patience.

Photo credit: Raoul Ollman

Tom was preceded in death by his parents, Edgar and Mary from Minnie, and his brother Edgar G. Ingalls, Jr. He is survived by his sister, Betsy (Pat), numerous cousins, and countless friends. On his last day, he requested a favorite piece of music, ‘Eyes of the World,’ by one of his favorite bands, The Grateful Dead: 

Wake up to find out that you are the eyes of the world

The heart has its beaches, its homeland and thoughts of its own

Wake now, discover that you are the song that the morning brings

But the heart has its seasons, its evenings and songs of its own

Shortly thereafter, moments after Betsy arrived from Southern California, Tom gently breathed his final breath, perhaps the last thing he had to give to those gathering once more around him.

For those moved to remember Tom via donation of some sort, please consider giving to the San Francisco Zen Center in his name. We love you, Don Perfecto. Let’s grill!

Memorial Information:

Please join us for a Celebration of Tom’s Life:

Sunday, May 19th, 1-4PM at 10 Arkansas, San Francisco

Family, friends, colleagues, clients, sangha, and even casual acquaintances will gather to celebrate Tom’s life at the heart of it all, in the courtyard of 10 Arkansas, San Francisco, on Sunday, May 19th from 1 to 4PM (with a program beginning at 2PM).

Further details forthcoming, please sign up to be notified (and to help the planners accommodate all who plan to attend) here: