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Spotlight on Thomas and Carolyn Reese

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Sometimes a chance encounter can lead to our most significant relationships. 

Thomas “Tom” Reese had just finished serving in the Coast Guard and was starting to practice law as a civil trial lawyer. For fun, he regularly went ice skating with a group of single young people. One time, he invited a friend to come skating, who asked if she could bring someone along as well- Carolyn Watson.

Carolyn had such a wonderful presence. Her family had lived in San Francisco for multiple generations and she loved growing up there. Carolyn had developed a love for tennis when she was just a young girl by playing on the courts at the Presidio. After graduating from Lowell High School, Carolyn attended Cal Berkeley and received an advanced degree in Education. She went on to teach at the high school level. After that day, she and Tom became inseparable. 

They decided to marry and soon their lives were busy with Tom’s law practice, Carolyn’s teaching career, and raising three children, David, Deborah, and Kathleen. Carolyn specialized in working with junior high and high school students who needed extra support in the classroom to reach their academic potential. She also pursued her life-long passion of playing tennis and led historic walking tours. 

Tom and Carolyn enjoyed skiing and traveling the world together. They even volunteered together. Tom and, then Carolyn, both served on the National Eczema Association. Together, they helped found a chapter in the Village Movement, an organization composed of members who coordinate crucial services for the elderly, allowing many people to remain in their homes. 

Carolyn started falling on the tennis court and while climbing steps during the walking tours she loved to guide. She was diagnosed with ALS on May 30, 2017.  

Tom vowed he would do his best to ensure Carolyn could stay in their home. As the disease progressed, she could no longer swallow and had to rely on a feeding tube for adequate nutrition. They registered for care services with the Golden West Chapter and attended Chapter support groups. Their children, grandchildren, and extended family were devoted to helping them and visited as often as possible.

Increasingly, Carolyn needed more help at home. Some of the friends that Carolyn and Tom had made through their work at the Village Movement were important sources of support and comfort during their journey with ALS. During the last four months of her life, Carolyn could not speak, yet she could hear and understand it all. 

For Tom, the inability to communicate was the most difficult challenge of ALS. After 54 years of marriage and just shy of her 80 birthday, Carolyn died of ALS at home on April 26, 2018.

Tom decided that he wanted to honor Carolyn’s memory with his steadfast support of the work of the Golden West Chapter. He remains committed to help others families facing ALS now and to fuel the search for effective treatments and cures for the future. 

This year on November 30, the last day of National Family Caregivers Month and Giving Tuesday, Tom will match all donations to the Golden Chapter up to $20,000. He hopes that this will inspire others to give help and hope to more than 1800 families facing ALS served by the Chapter throughout 31 California counties and the entire state of Hawaii.

Tom’s advice for the ALS community to live their lives to the fullest follows the mission of the Golden West Chapter, “Make your lives as rich and as full as possible while you can because this is a crippling disease. As a former caregiver, I understand that there are many challenges in supporting your loved ones with the challenges of the disease, and the Golden West Chapter has many resources to help. It is only together that we will defeat ALS.”

Tom Reese exemplifies that people who care about others can apply themselves with purpose and focus to change the world for the better. Thank you Tom for caring, for your commitment to the Golden West Chapter, and for all you do in support of the ALS community.

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