He was always my friend, my colleague and he was always my mentor
By Charles Brown
There are times when writing an article is difficult, but this has been especially tough. How do you sit at a keyboard and memorialize a lost life? I’ve spent a lot of time and tears writing this month’s column to honor the life of someone close to me.
Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) member and PVA Publications Editor-In-Chief Tom Fjerstad died Dec. 9, 2022, at his home in Phoenix after a more than yearlong battle with leukemia. The Navy veteran was 63. There’s plenty of space dedicated to Tom in this month’s PN, but I want to take the time to write about the man I called a friend, colleague and mentor.
I first met Tom in 1993 at PVA’s annual convention in Minneapolis. I didn’t get to spend much time around him then, as he was busy with the new PVA Minnesota Chapter he helped create and being a convention host. I remember Tom well, as he was very professional and dedicated.
Tom served PVA in many important capacities over the past three decades. During that time, he had a big impact in leading key changes to PVA governing documents that helped our operating procedures become more professional. After I became PVA national president in 2021, I took a few moments to talk with Tom about PVA Publications and the magazines PVA produces.
I learned so much from Tom while he served as editor-in-chief. He was exceptionally dedicated to preserving PVA’s history. He did a lot of groundwork and plenty of research to make sure it would be maintained and celebrated.
It never failed for Tom to call me “boss” when we talked on the phone or in person. In my heart and in my mind, I was never his boss. He was always my friend, my colleague, and he was always my mentor.
He taught me a lot in a short amount of time as his supervisor, but I also gained plenty of knowledge from him during my entire tenure with PVA. As my mentor, Tom taught me to be more proficient in meetings and to trust the parliamentarian and rely on his or her professional training.
He was a kind-hearted and loving person. Tom was also well-known for his long distance drives across the country for business or family trips. As I sit here and reflect on the last long drive he took, my heart sinks again.
That last long drive was returning to Phoenix from New York City after the National Veterans Wheelchair Games in May 2021. Tom had said he wasn’t feeling well toward the end of the Games, and it was shortly after that when he was diagnosed with leukemia.
Tom was a remarkably strong individual and fought his cancer courageously. I promise you that Tom will not be forgotten, and his name will continue to live in PVA history.
Rest, my good friend, and know that you’ve done more work on this earth than the majority of men.
Donations in Tom’s name can be made to PVA or to the LifeWaters Hero Dive Program.
To donate to PVA, visit pva.org or mail a check to:
PVA National Office, 1875 Eye Street
NW, Suite 1100, Washington, D.C. 20006
To donate to the LifeWaters Hero Dive Program, visit lifewaters.networkforgood.com or mail a check to:
LifeWaters Hero Dive, c/o Matt Wilson,
Wilson Manufacturing, 4725 Green Park Rd.,
St. Louis, MO 63123
The Hero Dive provides veterans with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis the opportunity to scuba dive with their family, friends and fellow veterans. Tom was honored to participate in this program.