FER Bids a Sad Farewell to Our Long-time Friend Tom Gillespie
by Louise Beinhauer
Thomas Walter Gillespie, Friends of Ecological Reserves Secretary since 2003, passed away in hospital on November 26, 2013 at the age of 68. Tom lived with lung cancer over the past year and a half, but continued to maintain his commitment to several Victoria-based environmental organizations.
Tom did so much for FER over the years, that we are just now realizing what a big hole his passing has left in our organization and in our hearts. Not only was he our Secretary for the past ten years, he was also our Treasurer for eight years. He maintained our Membership List and, until recently, updated our website. He proof read the LOG and assisted with its mail out. He reserved our AGM meeting space at the University of Victoria and he was a wealth of information about a myriad of subjects.
Tom, quietly and diligently, provided hundreds of hours of volunteer time to other environmental organizations in Victoria. Some of those organization and their testimonials of Tom’s incredible dedication follow.
Tom was one of the founding members of the Garry Oak Ecosystems Recovery Team (GOERT) and of the Vertebrates at Risk Recovery Implementation Group (RIG). Trudy Chatwin, Chair of GOERT’s Vertebrates at Risk RIG said, “Tom has been a very faithful participant and volunteer on the RIG and has been involved in Garry Oak conservation from the beginning. I know that Tom has supported many conservation organizations, and he has monitored and searched for Coastal Vesper Sparrows and built and monitored many a Western Bluebird box.” For his long-time service to the Garry Oak Ecosystems Recover Team, he was awarded an Acorn Award in January 2012.
Tom had been the Treasurer of the Garry Oak Meadow Preservation Society (GOMPS) since its inception. He recalled that when participants first passed the hat around at an informal gathering at Swan Lake, it got them going for the first little while. At that time, Garry Oak ecosystems were well-known among the science community, but they hadn’t been promoted among the public. This group wanted to get people involved in their conservation.
GOMPS colleague Mike Meagher said, “My main impression of Tom is of someone who speaks seldom, but always on target and in a soft voice that belies the direct manner and facts behind his statements. As in other organizations, Tom has played a major role in GOMPS by maintaining membership lists, plus doing all the banking; he has been up to his elbows from the moment the first collections of Garry Oak acorns were floated and sorted for Rob Hagel to sow at Pacific Forestry Centre.”
Tom volunteered to the Victoria Natural History Society. Of his role in that organization, past Director Claudia Copley said, “Tom is absolutely indispensable. He has been doing things for us for so long that no one knows just how much. He has handled the mailing of our magazine for decades, which requires a significant effort. He has been our president, and has taken on various other board roles. He picks up all our mail and gets it to the right people. He has represented us to our umbrella organization, BC Nature (The Federation of BC Naturalists) for many years, and he has become our informal archivist because of his long relationship with the organization and his long memory. He’s been a field trip leader, a team leader for the Christmas bird count, and he has been there whenever he was needed for anything else. He is a pillar of the Society.”
BC Purple Martin Stewardship and Recovery Program Bruce Cousens and Charlene Lee wrote, “Tom has been involved with the conservation and recovery of Purple Martins in BC since the mid-1980s when the first nestboxes were built and installed in the Victoria area. He helped monitor Purple Martin activity at the nestbox sites and has built many boxes for the recovery program. When Cam Finlay started the Purple Martin Banding Study in 1996, Tom became his banding assistant. He also took on management of the banding database, which has since grown to include over 14,000 banded martins, the only long-term banding study in North America providing valuable information about the western subspecies.
Since 2002, Tom has been the South Island Regional Coordinator for the BC Purple Martin Stewardship and Recovery Program. He has been instrumental in continuing the monitoring of Purple Martin activity at the Victoria area colonies, organizing volunteers, banding nestlings, maintaining nestbox check and banding records, and submitting the annual data to the Canadian Wildlife Service Bird Banding Office.”
The Georgia Basin Ecological Assessment and Restoration Society (GBEARS) are extremely grateful for Tom’s dedication and commitment to Purple Martin conservation and recovery for over 25 years, and for his volunteer support for more than a decade, conducting the south Vancouver Island portion of the BC Purple Martin Stewardship and Recovery Program.
Cam Finlay wrote, “When I began a study of Purple Martins back in 1996, it was Tom who drove the boat and held it still against a piling to allow me to climb ladders to get nestlings, and then he banded them when I handed them down. So began his work on martin research which he has continued to the present. Each year he monitors the arrival of the parents in the spring and then watches the adults to determine when he should come and band the nestlings from the major site at Esquimalt and later, from other sites, including the Royal Roads colony.
Tom also helped me when I first began studying and banding Anna’s Hummingbirds in 1996. He made the various traps and helped mount the devices. Without Tom’s help, much of the early studies of hummingbirds in Greater Victoria would not have been accomplished.”
Of Toms contributions to the Rocky Point Bird Observatory, member Alison Moran said, “Tom is an active board member and has volunteered untold hours and expertise. He has been the Treasurer for years, but he also looks after so much else, getting the trailers organized, the solar panels, and a host of other details that make the season run well. Tom is one of our bird banders for the hummingbird migration monitoring group. For many years, it was Tom who ensured all our data got uploaded to Canadian Wildlife Service, a time-consuming and often frustrating job, but absolutely fundamental to the dissemination of all our volunteers’ work. Tom’s activities and energies have benefitted so many organizations and worthwhile endeavours.”
Besides being the recipient of the Acorn Award in 2012, Tom received a Federation of BC Naturalists: Club Service Award in 1997; the Victoria Natural History Society’s Distinguished Service Award, plus an Honorary Life Membership and the BC Purple Martin Stewardship and Recovery Program award for his work banding birds and participating in studies and observations since 1997.
There are many organization and many people in Victoria and on southern Vancouver Island who will miss Tom’s knowledge, dedication and steadfast support. They will miss a friend.