Memorial packed for Cowichan watershed champion

Friends and supporters packed Lake Cowichan Centennial Hall Sunday, Aug. 10 to bid an emotional farewell to Gerald Thom, a conservationist with a strong desire to safeguard the Cowichan Lake and River systems.

Thom was killed when the plane he owned with a longtime friend from Saltspring Island crashed near Nanaimo on Saturday, July 26.

Since then, tributes have been pouring in for the man who led the Cowichan Lake and River Stewardship Committee (later changed to Society) since its inception in 2009 and the gathering at Centennial Hall gave many people the chance to share their feelings in both formal and informal ways.

Friend Bill Gibson told the overflow crowd that in 2007, Thom and his wife, Caroline, moved to Youbou.

It didn’t take long for him to pick up the enthusiasm for Cowichan Lake which became a major focus of his life.

When he and others formed the Stewardship Society in 2009, Thom headed up a water quality committee.

At the first meeting in September of that year in Lake Cowichan’s Bell Tower School, he urged his six-member group to come up with a mission statement, Gibson said.

They quickly realized they were monitoring the quality of water in Cowichan Lake in order to determine changes and figure out the proper direction for public education.

When the Stewardship Society was finally formed, Thom was elected president by acclamation.

"It became clear there was only one choice to lead the society," Gibson said.

Another Youbou resident, George Delure, described his friend as one of those memorable people "who comes into our lives and leave footprints in our hearts."

Thom was capable of monitoring massive enterprises with cool confidence and control, Delure said.

"He could surmount seemingly all obstacles he put his mind to. He always had a smile, never any negative thoughts and was always ready to serve his community and others."

He particularly remembered Thom working with the late Wayne Palliser, pulling broom by hand at Mile 77 Park in Youbou, moving the Mile 77 signpost and its pole to the Kaatza museum.

Caroline Thom told the big crowd that so many caring adjectives described her husband that they should be placed in the dictionary under the heading Gerald Thom. "He was not just a friend, but a best friend, a brother, a son, a son-in-law, a brother-inlaw and my husband," she said, sharing that when she first met him, she was blown away by his appealing charm.

"I said ‘Ooh la la! Who was that?’" she told the crowd, to warm laughter.

Many dignitaries were in attendance, too, including Lake Cowichan Mayor Ross Forrest, who said that he, along with others, could never have guessed the impact that Thom would have on their lives and communities, when they met to work on the Stewardship group together.

"The members of that committee had complete faith in his leadership and their performance reflected his passion," Forrest said.

"A strong community needs a champion to lead and our community was blessed to have the champion of all champions to lead the way to protect our lake and river," he said, his voice breaking with emotion.

Afterwards, a video was shown and everyone offered a toast to Thom’s memory. He had been a leading force behind the recent Cowichan River cleanups held every year and, at the time of his death, was helping plan this weekend’s event at Lake Cowichan. The event takes place from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.