Thomas Aquinas Casey

 

Thomas Aquinas Casey, beloved husband, father, grandfather, great grandfather, brother and friend passed away on April 6, 2021 at his home in Kirkland, Washington.  Tom was born on May 12, 1949 in Warwick, Rhode Island to Robert F. and Louise F. Casey (who predeceased him in death); a New Englander for more than two decades and a life-long Red Sox fan.

He met his wife, Pam Casey ne’ Warwick, on a plane back from Mexico where they discovered they were born on the same day. Tom was the older by 12 hours.  They were best friends and the love of each other’s lives.  They were married in 1983.  Tom loved his children, Cori and Chad McLeod, rejoiced in their accomplishments, thoroughly enjoyed their company and loved spending time with them and their children and grandchildren.  He had a great capacity to love and thoroughly enjoyed verbally sparring with his family over politics and current events: an Irishman blessed with the gift of gab, he never saw a debate he did not want to participate in.

As the eldest of six children and only son in an Irish, Italian, American family, Tom often joked that being born the eldest was a heavy burden to bear. He loved his parents and his sisters and was extremely generous to all of them throughout their lives. He regularly arranged for his parents, who relocated to the Pacific Northwest, to explore the beauties of Alaska and attend the Iditarod, thrills his parents spoke about for years to come.

Tom attended Boston University in the turbulent 1960s, listened to lectures from Howard Zinn, demonstrated against the war in Vietnam and in 1969, marched in Washington D.C. at the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam, a mass demonstration and teach-in across the United States against U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.  After giving his tuition money to a Greek student who would have faced severe consequences from the Junta if forced to return to Greece, Tom headed west to Alaska in search of adventure and tuition money for the fall semester.  Local lore has it that when his school teacher parents learned of Tom’s largess with their savings it was one of the loudest discussions ever to have occurred at 10 Grand View Drive, his childhood home.  In Kodiak Tom wandered the docks trying to find work on a fishing boat and striking out for months.  Finally, when a fisherman washed up dead in Kodiak harbor Tom hired on long-lining for halibut on an eighty foot schooner. That experience whetted his appetite for the adventure and financial rewards that awaited in Alaska.

After graduating with a degree in Economics, the allure of life in Alaska drew him back to Kodiak where he fished for King crab and salmon.  Later he skippered salmon boats in Bristol Bay and crab boats in the Bering Sea.  Every Alaskan fisherman knows the risks associated with plying their trade, the vicious and dangerous storms that blow out of nowhere, the torrents of rain and hurricane force winds, the deadly, gigantic, sea swells. Tom would recount one memorable day while King crabbing in the Bering Sea an unexpected behemoth of a storm blew crashing waves over the deck into the pilot house, wreaking havoc with the schooner’s electronics.   Massive thirty foot waves were on the verge of swamping his boat. Tom and the crew had donned their survival suits but knew that jumping into those treacherous seas was sure death, survival suit or not. While in the wheelhouse trying to steady the boat in the unforgiving swells an apparition of his long deceased, beloved, Italian grandfather, Louie Lepry (Lepore), a former New England fisherman, appeared before him and told Tom to “hold the rudder straight.”  Having read Macbeth and listened to his mother (a high school English teacher) repeatedly quote Shakespeare’s famous line in Hamlet “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio than are dreamt of in your philosophy,” Tom was no stranger to literary ghosts, their prophecies or those souls who foolishly ignored those prophecies at their own peril. Abiding the direction of his grandfather over the protracted duration of this killer storm enabled Tom to steer the boat and his crew to safety in the deadly unruly weather.

From 1975-76, Tom  worked in Washington D.C. with Senator Ted Stevens lobbying for passage of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, federal legislation that would protect the U.S. fishing industry from unregulated, foreign, fishing fleets depleting the U.S.  and Alaskan seafood stocks.  Passed in 1976, the Act governs marine fisheries management in U.S. federal waters and promotes the long-term, sustainability of marine fisheries within two hundred nautical miles of the U. S. coastline. Prior to the Act, the U.S.’s jurisdiction only extended 12 statute miles off shore. Under the Act, U.S. fisheries management expanded and became a multi-disciplinary public process that takes into account science and species management and collaboration with the fishing industry. Senator Stevens was so appreciative of Tom’s lifelong dedication and important contributions to the success of Alaska that on the State’s 40th anniversary, he sent Tom a letter and flag that was flown over the U.S. Capitol on January 3rd, 1999 commemorating Alaska’s statehood. Senator Stevens wrote that Tom had been an important part of Alaska’s history and had contributed to the state’s success. As she was leaving Washington D.C. to become the Ambassador to Finland in 1977, Deputy Assistant U.S. Secretary for Oceans and Fisheries Affairs Rozanne Ridgway wrote and thanked Tom for having been a “valued counselor in our negotiations.”  She said that she was confident, having considered the challenges they faced, that the task of passing Magnuson-Stevens could not have been accomplished in a manner consistent with the U.S.’s interests without Tom’s counsel and contribution.

For decades Tom represented Alaskan salmon and crab fisherman and lobbied state and federal regulators regarding maximum American fish and crab harvests under the Magnuson-Stevens Act.  In the February 1979 edition of National Geographic Boyd Gibbons, in an article entitled “Risk and Reward on Alaska’s Violent Gulf,” described Tom as a “boat rocking economist from back East.” He was a big bear of a man with a raging intellect, a commanding voice and persistent determination. Author William B. McCloskey described Tom in his twenties as having “a voice of a Grand Banks foghorn and a black pirate’s beard” and wrote that with an “encyclopedic head for facts and statistics, the brains to fit them together into meaningful patterns, and his particular brand of bull-moose energy, he is able to echo the aspirations of the most aggressive Kodiak fisherman.”

After the Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster in 1989 in which 11 million gallons of crude oil were spilled into Prince William Sound, Tom consulted with Exxon, developed oil spill response protocols and planned and executed spill drills for the company. His work for Exxon was on the vanguard of the environmental movement to require oil companies to respond immediately and effectively to spills in situ.  At that time, the Exxon Valdez was the largest oil spill in U.S. history and the company’s initial attempts to contain the spill were disastrous. The oil spread to 1300 miles of pristine Alaskan coastline and killed hundreds of thousands of marine mammals and seabirds. The cost of spill cleanup, habitat restoration, related personal damages was estimated at four billion dollars. The new response protocols developed after the Exxon Valdez spill would serve as an industry standard.

Tom was an Alaskan version of Renaissance man with a determined no holds barred approach to lobbying, a love of life and family and a perennial lust for adventure.  It is hard to describe a man who was a published poet, a hard driving Alaskan fisherman and economist, a family man, a sports fan, a lobbyist, a lover of the oceans, the sea, his dogs, literature, history, music, Alaska and the Pacific Northwest; a naturalist and author who left a library full of poems and essays and whose writings always harkened back to the beauty of life in Alaska and the Alaskan wilderness. He will be dearly missed by all those who loved him deeply and had the privilege of sharing their lives with him.  For those who loved him, their lives will not be the same without his wild Alaskan spirit enchanting their lives. Edna St. Vincent Millay aptly describes Tom’s family’s  loss:  “Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling in at night. I miss you like hell.”

Tom is survived by his wife Pamela Casey, daughter Cori McLeod (Jonny Babcock), son, Chad McLeod (Karen McLeod), Grandchildren Weston Graham, Brittny McLeod (Neal Kunkle) and Keith McLeod; Great grandchildren Adelin and Zaden McLeod; his sisters Ann L. Casey (Carol Plunkett), Catherine M.  Shackleton (Michael Shackleton deceased), Mary R. Casey (Craig Russell) Patricia M. Lindstadt, Paula A. Casey Orehek (John Orehek), and his nieces and nephews Christine Shackleton Karig (Andy Karig), Daniel Shackleton, Thomas Russell, Michael Orehek (Ashley Alexandrovich Orehek), Rachel Orehek and Mathew Orehek and their children.

The family will hold a private gathering to celebrate Tom’s life and asks that in lieu of flowers donations be made to Whidbey Animal Improvement Foundation (WAIF Animal Shelter) 60 Park Road, Coupeville, WA 98239.

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