When the rare honour of Freeman of the Town of Lake Cowichan was bestowed upon long-time Lake Cowichan resident Tom Gordon in 2004, it followed an accumulation of years of untiring dedication and service to this community and his fellow citizens.
Civic duty was always a labour of love for Tom. He never tired of contributing to the well being of the community he lived in for 73 years. Tom (Thomas Harley Gordon) died last Wednesday in Duncan at the age of 98. Tom was known as a man whose family, friends, community and country were of utmost importance to him.
Throughout his long life he earned the respect of many who recognized him as a honourable man whose word ,or handshake, was all that was needed. He lived his life the only way he knew how — as an honest, hard working, loyal and trustworthy man who chose and maintained a high standard and principled way of life.
A character in his own right, he could BS with the best of them, talk politics with a level head and more than a little common sense. He was, as the old saying goes, “larger than life.”
Born Dec.14, 1913 in Seattle, Washington, Tom grew up in Nanaimo where it was almost a given for boys of his young age and his generation to begin work. At 14 Tom began work at the Canadian Colliers – Dunsmuir’s Coal Mine.
In October 1938 after the coal mine shut down due to a cave-in leaving 1,200 coal miners out of work he moved to this area following his parents who had moved here the year prior after buying the Lakeside Hotel.
With a fourth-class Steam Engineer certificate, Tom easily found employment as a “donkey doctor” for a logging company in the Robertson River Valley. Soon he was sent to Shaw Creek before being hired at the Youbou Industrial Timber Mill where he worked on the timber deck before moving to the powerhouse steam plant.
In Youbou, he and his wife Florence, whom he had married in 1939, bought their first house for the sum of $500. With gas lamps for light, only cold water, an outdoor toilet and a sawdust stove for heat. “We didn’t have much but we were happy.” recalled Tom years later.
During the years from 1943 onward, Tom was active in many local service groups and organizations including service in the Pacific Coast Militia (13 years in the Rangers), an active charter and life member of the Lake Cowichan Kinsmen service club which led — in its early years — to the forming of the Kinsmen Ambulance Service.
Tom spent 20 years as volunteer ambulance driver and attendant. (It is impossible to explain the amount of hours, resources, dedication and service men such as Tom provided to the community during these years.)
Tom spent 30 years as a volunteer fireman with the Lake Cowichan Volunteer Fire Department, putting in 10 years as chief. During those years, the ambulance and fire departments were operated on a 100 per cent volunteer basis. The members often raised money or contributed to the cost of maintenance and operation of the services.
Tom was also a charter and life member of the Masonic Coronation Lodge that was formed here but has operated out of Duncan for many years now. It is believed that Tom was the last living charter member of the group.
In 1946, the Gordons, by then the parents of daughter Wendy and son Don, bought an acre of land on North Shore Road in Lake Cowichan. It was there that they built the family home and where Tom remained for the rest of his life.
Summing up his feelings towards his community in a letter he penned to the editor of the Lake Cowichan Gazette on July 6, 2004, he said, “I have loved [living here] so much that I would like to put in another 66 years right here.”