By Sue Tiffin
Friends of Mike St. Thomas said that he gave it his all in life gettinginvolved in as much as possible and participating with enthusiasm.
He even created a new name for where he lived – Burbobkin – hanging a sign at the entrance way to his home at the corner of County Roads 49 and121 near Burnt River Bobcaygeon and Kinmount.
St. Thomasvolunteered in Burnt River using his skills as a cook to help at theBurnt River Diner’s Dinner held at the community centre. In Kinmount he joined the St. James Anglican Church and was a longtime member of theKinmount Royal Canadian Legion Branch. In Bobcaygeon when he moved tothe Pinecrest Nursing Home he made his mark there helping lift spirits of his fellow residents including his mom Jean.
On March 28 at71 years old he died of complications due to COVID-19 in an outbreak of the virus at the long-term care centre. Mike’s mother Jean died aweek later on April 4 at 95 years old. Her death has not been confirmedto have been connected to the outbreak.
Friends describe St. Thomas as being optimistic caring and thoughtful.
“Mike didn’t do anything half he went all in or not at all” said MarylouFerguson president of the John McGrath Branch 441 in Kinmount. She said he joined the Legion about 10 years ago as a member. “Then likeeverything Mike does he went full-force. He joined the executive andbecame my first vice and contributed in everything at the Legion level. From there we just became friends.”
When the two took a signlanguage course Ferguson said “He would get everything that wasrequired he would get all the books because he wanted to do the bestat everything he did and he did” she said. “When we’d go to classhe’d be there with bells on and know that he was contributing to makeit better and fun for everybody.”
St. Thomas had a personality that one person in their condolences described as being like “a teddy bear.”
“I don’t think I ever saw him mad or say a crass word about anybody” said Ferguson. “He was just a very nice man very giving and lots of goodideas too. He would always come up with something to try to make things better. He was just a really nice guy.”
After St. Thomas’s mom moved to Pinecrest Ferguson said he struggled to keep his weight down andwith diabetes challenges that led to him moving to Pinecrest as well.Though he didn’t adjust to it there right away and considered leavinghe eventually opted to stay.
“He would want everybody to enjoyeverything” said Ferguson of his presence at the residence. “I believethe residents at the home really basically fell in love with Mike. Hegave them I’m not going to say hope but he made it more fun moreenjoyable to be where they were.”
St. Thomas sent messages tofriends when the outbreak occurred concerned about what could happen to himself and fellow residents. One friend reached out to parliament inan attempt to help. Ferguson was leaving her job an essential servicewhen she heard of his death.
“I hope everybody is paying attentionto what’s happening and who it’s affecting” said Ferguson. “It’s notjust the elderly it’s anybody … When I got out of work and sat in mycar I just knew who it was. I knew that Mike was one of the ‘casualties of war.’”
Ferguson said his death has been more painful because of an inability for family and friends to gather together in mourning.
“When somebody passes like Mike you just want that closure” she said after speaking to CBC about his life. “Because we can’t get together and talk about the funny things he did or the way most people when somebodypasses you do a celebration for them. Mike didn’t want anything … but that doesn’t mean that we couldn’t get together and talk about him andjust be and have that closure. That’s the hardest part knowing thatnone of us can give that person the hug that they want or that theyneed.”
Pinecrest Nursing Home a 65-bed long-term care facility hasbeen the site of the largest coronavirus outbreak in Ontario sincemid-March. To date 27 COVID-19 related deaths have been reported at the facility as well as the death of a spouse of a resident.
“This istruly a horrible time for the families and friends of the residents aswell as our staff” said Mary Carr administrator of Pinecrest NursingHome in a March 26 press release. “We have a number of medicallyfragile and vulnerable people living in our home; our residents are like family to our staff. Our sympathies go out to all of the families andfriends of the people we have lost.”
At press time 4726 confirmedcases of COVID-19 had been reported in Ontario with 153 deaths and1802 cases resolved. Two cases have been confirmed in HaliburtonCounty.