LAKE OF BAYS – Roads have been a large part of Tom Brown’s life, but he’s putting them in his rearview mirror and turning the wheels toward a new direction.
Tom Brown, now retired from his position with the Township of Lake of Bays after 37 years, is more than just a man who knows a thing or two about roads.
After 37 years with the Township of Lake of Bays, Brown is easing his way into retirement. His official last day as roads director with the township is Dec. 31.
But that in no way means life will be slowing down for the man with a giving heart. Brown is a chaplain and spends much of his time volunteering with the Huntsville/Lake of Bays fire departments and Muskoka Victim Services. With more time to spend how he pleases, he plans on devoting even more time to these organizations.
“It’s nice when you can help people and make them feel better,” said Brown. “With the fire department they’re just like a family, we’re very close. They treat me well, as do Muskoka Victim Services.”
Brown is there for people when they’re dealing with difficult situations, whether it’s after a tragic accident, abuse or for marriage counselling.
“It’s not hard per se, you definitely need to look after yourself,” Brown said. “Everybody goes through life’s experiences. I know when I need somebody it’s nice to have somebody to talk to. Everybody, no matter what they say, goes through difficult times and sometimes, particularly with suicides, you’re in a dark place and you can’t see beyond that and if nobody comes there to pull you out you may do something (disastrous).”
Time plays a key role in helping people make positive changes.
“The hardest part of working with people is waiting for them to recognize they need help because you don’t help anybody that doesn’t want help,” said Brown. “So it’s waiting for them to hit rock bottom and you can talk and try and steer them but you can’t really help until they want help.”
In 2001, Brown had just started his chaplaincy training and after completing the first course he volunteered to go help victims of the 9/11 attacks in New York. He was stationed directly across the street from Ground Zero for two weeks acting as a supervisor of a feeding station for The Salvation Army and counselling people as they came in.
“I learned more in that two weeks than I would have in 10 years of just regular life,” said Brown. “I was there in December and there were still bodies being discovered.”
Two weeks was the maximum time volunteers were allowed to stay and help, as the effects of what they saw would have long-lasting implications. For Brown, it took two years to recover from those two weeks.
“It’s just that you’re always giving yourself so you can’t recover… you’re never off duty” he said. “Initially when I came back I felt alone. I don’t regret going, but it was a challenging time,” he said through a long sigh. “It was hard to talk about it. Every time you talked about it, it would bring back those memories.”
While Brown is involved with a lot of life’s more difficult situations, he’s also there to celebrate joyous unions and bring couples together on their wedding day.
“One of my counsellors suggested it, doing something where people come together for happy things,” he said. “I really like firefighter weddings, it’s always nice when it’s somebody you know.”
Later this month, Brown will celebrate his 34th wedding anniversary with his wife, Karin. They have two sons and three grandchildren.