Conservation, community champ Gerald Thom dies in plane crash

Cowichan conservation pillar Gerald Thom was restoring river vegetation just hours before dying during Saturday
Cowichan conservation pillar Gerald Thom was restoring river vegetation just hours before dying during Saturday's ultralight plane crash near Nanaimo.
— image credit: Malcolm Chalmers file

Gerald Thom, one of Cowichan's conservation and community stars, was one of two men killed during Saturday's ultralight plane crash near Nanaimo Airport.

He was 50.

The Youbou resident was president of the Cowichan Lake and River Stewardship Society.

Thom shared Lake Cowichan Chamber of Commerce's 2014 Citizen of the Year honours in April with the lake's Wilma Rowbottom.

He also earned Lake Steward of the Year kudos in 2013, from the B.C. Lake Stewardship Society.

Friend Rodger Hunter was stunned about the tragedy when reached Monday.

Hunter stressed about how Thom's death is a blow to the valley's crucial conservation efforts.

"I'd describe Gerald as a watershed champion. His death is a huge loss, but he inspired so many people that his legacy will live on. This watershed will be so much better because of Gerald.

"I can't think of a fault to Gerald Thom. He had that wonderful, quiet confidence that was absolutely inspiring; he led by example."

Coincidentally, Thom and other society volunteers planted 800 native plants in the lake's damaged riparian zone on Lake Cowichan First Nation land earlier Saturday.

"It was a marvelous day, and Gerald was front and centre leading the way," Hunter said of Thom, who led the lake's riparian-restoration drive.

The B.C. Coroners Service confirmed Monday Thom and Salt Spring Islander Michael Cyril Weir, 73, died in the 7 p.m. crash of a home-built aircraft near Nanaimo Airport on July 26.

"Mr. Weir and Mr. Thom were taking their home-built aircraft on flight trials, taking off from the Nanaimo Airport, which is located at Cassidy south of Nanaimo, on the evening of July 26," coroner service's Matt Brown's email reads.

"Shortly after 7 p.m., witnesses observed the plane to be in trouble shortly after takeoff. It crashed almost immediately onto the neighbouring Cottonwood Golf Course. Both men were deceased at the scene."

The investigation continues through the coroner's service, and the federal Transportation Safety Board, Brown noted.

Parker Jefferson, a society director, was also impressed with Thom's gentle motivation, and kind hands-on leadership.

"Gerald never judged, but looked at facts and dealt with people in a very comfortable fashion.

"He was able to motivate the stewardship society with his energy; he led by example, and was the hardest worker in the organization — and that made him the great leader he was.

"Many of us were fortunate to have spent his last few hours together with Gerald.

"When we planted the last one, he had a big grin on his face."

Jefferson echoed Hunter's feelings about the impact Thom's loss will have on local environmental initiatives, especially concerning the river.

"It'll leave a huge hole in our community, and in the stewardship society, but his spirit will live on.

"Gerald inspired so many of us to work hard to preserve and protect what we have in the Cowichan. We'll continue as if Gerald's still supervising our activities."

Details about services for Thom were pending at press time Monday.

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