Blog entry

Our Community Has Lost A Great Friend
Message from United Way CEO Steve Heath

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Tom Lawson was one of a kind. Our AFL-CIO Community Services Liaison for more than a decade, to the very end Tom personified what it means to Live United.

Tom died March 22 after a valiant, uncomplaining struggle with cancer. Though his passing was not unexpected, our staff is distraught at the loss of a great and caring friend and colleague.

Respected inside and outside the labor community, Tom was a passionate advocate for working families and his good works benefitted thousands of those families over the years.

Operation Christmas Basket was Tom’s “baby.” Every year, hundreds of out-of-work union families received food and toys for the kids thanks to Tom’s hard work.

Even this past Christmas, when he was really struggling health-wise, Tom was here to supervise the distribution of 6,000 pounds of food and hundreds of toys to about 220 families.

Two years ago, the economy worsening and job losses piling up, Tom created a booklet called “When the Paycheck Stops” to help people cope with one of life’s most traumatic changes.

Then he went out and found funding to have more than 25,000 copies of the booklet printed. I’m proud (and sad at the same time) to say that the supply has almost been exhausted.

But as great as Tom was at large projects helping hundreds of people, he never lost sight of (or faith in) the little guy and always went out of his way to help individuals who were struggling.

Tom’s was the most cluttered cubicle in our offices, mostly because it was always full of food and clothing–just in case someone needed a little help getting to their next pay day.

And Tom was a fervent recycler–not just because he was environmentally friendly but because he could put the money he got for those bottles and cans to a higher use.

Whenever Tom came across someone who was down on their luck or behind in their bills or just needed gas money to get to work, he gave them a little of what he called his “slush fund.”

United Way doesn’t make cash grants to individuals; we fund nonprofit agencies. Tom was relentless in finding creative ways to work around that policy.

I was privileged to work with Tom for more than six years. The toughest thing about being his supervisor was trying to get him to slow down and take some time for himself.

Even as he lay in pain in his hospital bed, the first thing out of his mouth when he saw me as I arrived to say good-bye was an apology for not getting to a couple of tasks we’d discussed.

My heart goes out to his wife, Barb, and the rest of the Lawson family. On behalf of the whole United Way family, I want to just say one more time, “Thanks, Tom, for everything.”

Tom’s Obituary in The Sacramento Bee

A Rosary was conducted for Tom at Divine Savior Catholic Church on March 29. His funeral mass was at Divine Savior Church on March 30 and was followed by a procession to Calvary Cemetery.

Comments

Rest in Peace, Friend

During my time at United Way, Tom was a consistent friend, courageous co-strategist, and partner in the crime of working for the good of people throughout the Sacramento region. Tom was the best kind of Robin Hood, asking those with a little extra to help those with not quite enough. One of my most fond memories of Tom was when he introduced me to the AFL-CIO community in Sacramento, in a Union-run restaurant. He coached me in how to best partner with organized labor for the greater good - a skill I've been able to use in future endeavors as well. I was always convinced Tom liked me best of all our colleagues, but I'm also convinced he had a way of making just about everyone feel that way. Although after leaving United Way I only saw Tom once or twice a year, he always went out of his way to spend time with me and catch me up on his latest endeavor. His unbridled passion for all humanity was contageous. Truly Tom was a man of courage and determination. Tom Lawson will be truly missed. Rest in peace, my friend. Nancy Olson

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