Figured I would re-post my entry from backtobristol.blogspot.com on a very good, humble and wise man that I had the honor of knowing:
“In my scant 29 years, I’ve found that there are really only a handful of days that stick with you for the rest of your life. On as similar a Monday as 9/11, September 8th 2008 began ordinarily enough: I made my morning commute from Annandale to Nokesville, grabbed some coffee and retired to my desk. Aaron Rodgers was making his pro-football debut that night, and all I wanted in the world was to get home and watch the Packers clobber the Vikings. The only indication that today might be memorable was when my boss and coworker, Peter and Pablo, took me outside to commemorate the Blessed Mother’s birthday. They left flowers in front of her statue, while I (maybe slightly embarrassedly) sang along to “Happy Birthday,” then turned back inside to work.
A couple hours later, Peter came through the door again, but this time with a more grave countenance: Tom and his son Joseph “Josie” Vander Woude had fallen into a sewer, and Tom had died. Details were sketchy but he thought I should know, since my sister Katy is married to Chris, another of Tom’s sons. Deciding that Katy should hear from the family first and since I did not know all the details, I sat back down and just waited.
I had known the Vander Woude’s since attending World Youth Day in Denver with them in 1993. In addition to being a family friend, Tom had been my high school basketball coach, my college athletic director and the head of the career development office when I graduated. He had been present throughout my young adult life, quietly strong, positive and supportive to everyone he worked with and influential in more ways than I could hope to write down here.
Not long after I’d heard the news, Facebook began to explode with status updates and instant messages. People were looking for news, details – anything. In particular I remember relaying what I had finally pieced together to my friend, Ben: Josie (who has down-syndrome) had been standing on an old septic tank lid when it gave way. Unable to pull him out, Tom had pushed himself into the muck underneath and held Josie up for air until help could arrive. Josie survived. Tom drowned. Ben replied: “That’s the most heroic thing I’ve ever heard.” And so it is.
There are infinitely more details regarding that day and those that followed than I could hope to relate here. More tributes than I could hope to chronicle about the influence that Tom had on my life or the thousands that packed Holy Trinity for his funeral. But a few days later I pulled into my driveway to the voice of Mark Levin reading the Washington Post over AM radio: “‘Tom had been a pilot in Vietnam… he worked as a commercial airline pilot… Farmer, athletic director, volunteer coach, parishioner, handy neighbor, grandfather of 24, husband of 43 years… his eldest son became a priest. Five others all married.’ No one told me to read you this story. But I saw it and could not let it pass by. Because every American man needs to know this story. Because this is a man that every man should try to be.” And so they should.
Rest in peace, Mr. Vander Woude.”
UPDATE: Focus on the Family also released a short interview-style video about Tom’s sacrifice back in 2014. Well worth a watch.