Neil Thom, former Publisher and General Manager of Yorkton This Week, died two days before Christmas of 2018. I’d expected the news, but it shocked me anyway. I knew Neil had cancer. At his funeral I learned that he’d dueled with the beast for over three years, endured surgery after surgery so he could spend more time with his beloved family. Cancer found a worthy opponent, and however you cut it, Neil won.
Understand, please. I have no real right to comment on Neil’s life. Perhaps I didn’t have the right to attend his funeral either. As friends go, I wasn’t one of his – not in the way I consider people friends. I never called him to go for coffee. He never called me just to shoot the breeze. I didn’t know much about his family or his pleasures and pains. I wouldn’t have presumed to ask him for a favour and he never asked one of me.
Nevertheless, Neil changed my life. One doesn’t let someone like that leave without saying good-bye.
Over the last eighteen years, I visited Neil’s office only a few times. In 2001, I walked in with a sheaf of ten unpublished faith columns. I proposed that if he liked them, I’d write a new one weekly. He called in a few days to say he would indeed like to publish my scribbles. Then he chose the column’s name himself. Sunny Side Up has remained faith side up in Yorkton This Week ever since.
Nine or ten years later, I visited Neil again, at the same office, across the same desk. This time I presented him with an inscribed copy of my second book, Practice by Practice, a compilation of my first year of columns. He seemed grateful, then embarrassed when he read the inscription. I told him I’d come to say thank you. By graciously opening the door for these then untried words, and keeping Sunny Side Up in the pages of his paper, he paved the way for them to enter to other publications and other formats in other media outlets – some clear around the world. More importantly, by Divine design, he’d allowed a moment of reflection, an invitation to faith, a note of cheer and inspiration for only God knows how many readers.
I left Neil’s funeral full. Sad that his precious family had suffered a great loss. Inspired by the example of a man who touched countless lives by his graciousness, positivity and love of life. Grateful that I’d known him just a bit. Regretting that our community had lost a great thread.
No one thinks about thread much, but I have, since Neil’s funeral. Cambridge English Dictionary defines the word as that which connects one part to another. Neil excelled at that. Our world needs more people like him.
At his funeral, several people mentioned that Neil considered everyone he met as a friend. So perhaps I learned something else about Neil – we were friends after all.
Godspeed, friend. And thank you.