Thursday, 2 May 2019: a day marked by a passage, the passing of a stalwart Naval Officer and a loving Volunteer. On Monday, I had visited Tom and Celia in their new home in Bozeman. Celia welcomed me and ushered me into their master bedroom where a much physically diminished Tom lay under several covers with his eyes closed. At Celia’s voice, he opened his eyes, focused on me, didn’t try to speak, but removed his hand and arm from under the covers and extended it toward me. I took his hand in my palm. It was warm and soft. I just stood there and enjoyed the moment immensely. His gesture was typical of his strength of character and will. He only had a few days to live; and I know he knew it. But he was facing the unknown with courage and pluck. We placed a hand-woven prayer shawl from my church ladies, shot through with prayers and well-wishes, over his blankets; and I said I knew he would be warmed by it. I took my leave and Celia and her sister saw me out. They knew his time was close.
Why do I tell you all this? Because I want you, my fellow warriors, volunteers and donors, to feel as close as I did to Tom O’Connor’s courage. Tom was a scientist, an engineer, a practical man of few, but direct, words, a Naval Officer, a specialist, an Aircraft Maintenance Officer—an “AMO” we called them in Naval Aviation. He had earned such immense trust in his specialty that he was given command of one of the most complex and demanding jobs in Naval Aviation: rebuilding tired, old, broken airplanes covering the spectrum of missions into “new”, combat-capable weapons systems—with thousands of Civilians, Sailors and Marines answering directly to him. After retirement, he took his rare expertise and went into several businesses in aerospace corporate leadership positions.
And then: Tom and Celia returned to Bozeman. Now what?!? In 2000-01, he led the “Blue Angels in the Big Sky” Airshow. He asked me to be his #2. The Airshow was a resounding success because of Tom’s leadership of a highly complex endeavor involving hundreds of people, businesses, agencies and the orchestration of hundreds of activities. He joined Kiwanis Club of Bozeman. Then he led the Kiwanis Club, staying on the Board as a mentor-advisor for 15 years. Then in 2006-07, Tom was AGAIN asked to lead the “Blue Angels in the Big Sky” effort—with a myriad of new actors and actions to orchestrate and bring to a roaring, successful and safe conclusion. (I guess the community leaders recognized a great draft horse by what they had witnessed in 2001! Mind you—these were one-year commitments.) Again, in January ’07 he asked me to be his #2. But this time, I had to say a very qualified “yes”. I had a direct conflict: I was trying to create and initiate a start-up non-profit that I was going to call “Warriors and Quiet Waters”. This much I knew for certain: I needed a totally dependable, no-nonsense, practical mind—like someone with Tom’s “chops”. So I turned his request around. I said I would help him IF he would agree to be my #2 in what would become Warriors and Quiet Waters Foundation (WQW). He said “Yes, but I won’t be able to make a lot of meetings due to the ongoing Airshow planning and coordination efforts.” So we agreed to help each other to the degree we could until our quickly-becoming-insane-schedules cleared up and lessened. In sum: we trusted each other. Unusual, don’t you think, for a Sailor and a Marine???
Tom became the Vice Chairman of the WQW Board of Directors and the Vice President of the WQW Corporation for the critical first three seasons of WQW operations. Then he served for three seasons as Secretary; and finally three more seasons as a Director. Why would anyone, especially a retired professional after 40-plus years of unrelenting hard work and sacrifices, still with a zest for life and travel and family, make such an enormous commitment—with zero expectation of any practical return on investment? In such a demanding endeavor as creating and sustaining a brand new, fully viable, business-minded corporation whose operational mission and vision seemed so challenging and even debatable, is it possible to defend why you are doing what you are doing?
As we progressed within WQW, Tom often became the Yin to my Yang, the rein-check to the bit on my bridle. And in the end, we were always a better organization because of it. Tom’s practicality, his engineer’s mind and his fearlessness and commitment to creating and shaping everything from operations to finances was in a word: invaluable. Was he always right? No…but he NEVER wavered from his commitment to the well-being of warriors, desperately wounded in body, mind and soul and in need of the solace WQW could bring them.
So…Tom’s contributions to accomplishing the mission and realizing the vision of WQW are so varied and substantial as to be immeasurable. His personality and his character are interwoven into the fabric of literally everything WQW is and does. You won’t see his face on a wall…but you can feel the warmth of his hand and soul in the vision, the mission, the actual operations, the Warrior and Spouse Alumnae, the Quiet Waters Ranch, the corporate Headquarters, the Staff, the Volunteers and the Donors. So smile with me when you reflect on Tom O’Connor’s contributions over nine (9) years of consistent efforts on Warriors’ behalf! And if you see something good and lasting in what WQW has accomplished, know that Tom O’Connor’s loving hands are in it. Semper fi, my friend.
In warm memory,
Colonel Eric Hastings, USMC (Ret)
Founder and Chairman Emeritus, WQW, ’07—‘15