Thomas Wilson, a longtime volunteer has died. Our volunteers and guests are deeply saddened by his passing. His presence was steadfast and influential. His southern charm and his stories were spread throughout our hospitality center and we hold so many of them now in our memories.
Thomas called me on a cold, rainy day in November of 2003. He had just read a front-page article in the Oregonian newspaper about our ministry at the Downtown Chapel. He desired a conversation with me about volunteering at the parish.
We met for lunch a couple of weeks after our phone introductions. We sat down at a restaurant table and he began to tell me his life story. He placed his black rimmed glasses on the table. He leaned back into his chair. I could see him make the decision to trust our conversation. I listened and the hours past. I was deeply inspired by his life, the stories he told and the stories I could see in his eyes that he did not tell. He carried to the lunch table a deep and profound grief in the death of his long-time partner, Jim. He was sorting out reasons to keep living and to remain an active contributor to life and service among people in need. The conversation began a friendship of sharing his life and many more meals.
I remember this conversation over a Cobb salad because he accomplished his goals. His grief turned into volunteering for nine years. His desire to live turned into supporting so many of us in ministry and in life.
Thomas kindly supported our twelve-month interns and our Jesuit Volunteers. He presented them with plaques honoring their year of service to the Downtown Chapel. He wanted to make sure they felt the gratitude of the community they served so lovingly. He lunched with us, he reminisced with us, he challenged us and always spoke his mind. Thomas mentored so many students and clothed so many of our guests from the closing closets. He made his opinions known and he affirmed people every day. Thomas charmed us with southern humor and kept us on our toes with his sarcasm.
Kelli Aviles, our first twelve-month intern wrote me today about her friendship with Thomas. “Thomas had an amazing gift of sharing the deepest parts of his heart with the world. Through his willingness to be vulnerable and share his joys and sorrows, he invited others to do the same. His life told a story of how deeply we are capable of loving one another. I will be forever grateful to have known him.”
Thomas loved and cared for his sister, Jean. She died several months ago. He missed her and she carved another place of grief within his heart. Now Thomas, dine with the Divine, tell the stories of the past at the banquet feast of heaven.