Tommy and Petey astride Bombadier and Bonehead in Wyoming in 1953
W A Peter Bours
It was a morning in late January as Joan and I prepared to take our dogs on their morning walk when the phone rang. Caller ID showed my old friend Tom McCoy. I quickly answered and settled in for a discussion of the usual topics: family, life, upcoming visits, vacations. It wasn’t to be. Tom was in the hospital in St George, Utah, about to be wheeled off to the OR for six-vessel coronary artery bypass surgery.
We knew that he had already experienced a rough summer and fall. A screw had come loose from a previous back surgery and was putting pressure on a nerve and causing a lot of pain. When he and Marsha visited in August for our daughter Heidi’s wedding Tom was, in his own words, heavily medicated and moving slowly. But surgery in October went well and he was “on the mend” when he began experiencing chest discomfort with exertion on their daily walks this winter. A stress test at his internist’s office showed EKG changes consistent with coronary artery disease. This led in rapid succession to an ambulance ride to the hospital, emergency angiography, and the immediate date with the cardiac surgeon described above.
A little background might be helpful at this point. Living in Wilmington in 1946 the Bours family moved from Wawaset Park to Westover Hills, two doors down from the McCoy family (Faith Dillon, TH’61 lived between us). Since those early days of digging holes to China in his backyard Tom and I have been the best of friends. When we were five and attending kindergarten, Tommy at Tower Hill and me at A.I. DuPont, he introduced me to a new friend and classmate from Tower Hill, Randy Urmston. Tommy and Randy were the “safe” escorts that my sister Mary Anne chose for her Holly Ball debut in 1964.
At age 9 I accompanied Tommy’s family on a trip to a dude ranch in Wyoming. He was included in two road trips our family took in the west as teenagers. Think Chevy Chase’s Vacation movies as Tommy and I climbed on the roof of a rented Chevy wagon to tie on suitcases, and yes, we did have one fly off as we drove. He was included on these trips ostensibly to provide greater gender balance but my three sisters never complained of his presence. Tommy was part of the family and a welcomed addition. During the first of these trips we learned the exciting news that that Tommy’s dad had been named a new vice-president of DuPont, where six years later he became president and chairman of the board.
Tom left Tower Hill in ninth grade to attend Choate. I rode up with his parents to the Choate graduation in 1962 and was later an usher in his wedding to Karen Farquhar. We stayed in contact, albeit infrequently, during those busy years of getting established professionally and raising families. Certainly I would receive reports about him from my parents in Wilmington, including news of Tom’s frequent appearances on late night TV selling televisions and appliances.
We were surprised to learn in 1998 that Tom had decided to retire and move with his wife Marsha to the great west of our summer vacations as teenagers. They lived for a few years in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, before moving to their new home in St George, Utah. St. George is a high desert town in southern Utah, a beautiful area of red walled canyons an hour’s drive west of the entrance to Zion National Park. A prominent landmark in the town is the home where Brigham Young “wintered” with many of his wives.
St. George is also only a thousand mile, seventeen hour drive from our home in Oregon, a long day in the car for Joan, myself, and our dogs, but a time when we enjoy beautiful and unique scenery and the uninterrupted opportunity to listen to an audio book. We have been making yearly trips to St. George and have been getting to know the great group of friends the McCoy’s have made since moving there. Tom and Marsha have reciprocated with trips to Oregon and have stayed with and been a tremendous help to us during our two family weddings in the past three years.
Tom and I have easily resumed the comfortable friendship of our early years together. No topics of conversation are off limits. A new common bond is the shared realization that we have each had the good fortune to marry wonderful women who have enhanced our lives in every aspect. It doesn’t hurt that Marsha and Joan have become great friends. As our moms’ might say, they are like “two peas in a pod” when we are together. And one more thing- the McCoys even love and welcome our dogs!
It was a tense few days for those of us who love Tom following the news of his medical emergency in late January. Marsha kept us abreast of events with emailed progress reports every few hours. I was most relieved and encouraged when I called Marsha the day after the surgery and she put Tom on the phone. He was clearly his same old self and even thought to ask if we had made our airline reservations for a trip we are taking together in August.
Joan and I are just back from spending a week in St. George with the McCoys. Tom’s blood work and cardiac function tests are excellent and he looks great. He is the thinnest he has been in years (I’m jealous). As Marsha describes it he has no butt to keep his pants up! Tom is certainly well known and highly respected in his community. We couldn’t go anywhere without friends and acquaintances coming up to express concern and offer support.
Both Tom’s brother Robert and I recommended a book by a new role model and hero of mine, Caldwell Esselstyn, a prominent Cleveland Clinic surgeon turned diet expert who has written a book called “Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease”(for more information see Esselstyn’s website at heartattackproof.com or view the documentary video “Forks Over Knives”). Esselstyn was a couple of years ahead of Robert at Yale and, as a member of the Yale crew, a gold medal winner at the Melbourne Olympics in 1956. He has achieved dramatic results treating patients with severe heart disease with a low fat, plant based diet. Among others, Bill Clinton has been heeding his advice. On our second day in St. George we received a text from our daughter Heidi, an internist, asking “is Tom vegan yet?” His response, well before we had even discussed diet, was that he was 80% vegan. Certainly Marsha provided us with excellent home-cooked, heart-healthy meals.
It is for good reason that heart disease is referred to as the silent killer. Tom has been thin, active, and eating a healthier diet than most people in this country for many years. He had a normal physical exam and EKG prior to his October back surgery. It was only at his insistence that the treadmill test was scheduled in late January. The first sign of heart disease for many patients is a myocardial infarction, a heart attack. A significant number of people do not survive this initial event, as happened with our senior class president and long term class leader, Jim Straub.
Thankfully this was not the case with Tom. We have every expectation that he will be around for a long time. His son Brel had twin boys born prematurely in February in Denver and Tom and Marsha have been actively involved with their arrival. They have four other grandsons living in Denver. Joan and I have granddaughters due in June and in October. We wonder that we ever worried about a lack of stimulation and activity in retirement. Tom and Marsha have been our role models for retirement. Friendships that go back to age two are not easily replaced.
Tom, Marsha.Joan,and Peter
ST. George UT March 2013
Marsha and Tom with mushroom stew
- Marsha and Tom in front of their country club, the setting
for that pre-teen classic High School Musical II