With eyes glassed over by tears and a heavy heart, this is the most difficult column I ever had to write. I’m deeply saddened by the loss of one of my closest friends and mentor.
Tom Fegely, 72, award winning outdoors writer, book author, editor and former outdoors TV host, passed away Tuesday in his Whitehall Township home from Lewy Body Dementia. A neurological disease that affects over a million people in the U.S. Lewy Body eventually tells your body to stop functioning and for Tom it was that he could no longer eat or drink.
Tom was responsible for my outdoor writing career. He was my inspiration, coach and esteemed mentor over the past 30-plus years. In this dog-eat-dog world, few, if any, folks would take an aspiring wildlife photographer under their wings and teach them the ropes of outdoor writing. Tom did and over time introduced me to a host of industry VIPs at trade shows, at outdoor writer conferences and even included this rookie on hunting trips to Canada, Alabama and Georgia with the latter hosted by his good friend Bill Jordan, CEO of Realtree Camouflage where we hunted the cherished and private Callaway Gardens land that Jordan was privileged to hunt.
I’ll never forget Tom’s initial words of wisdom to me after I showed him some of my wildlife photos. He said, “To make it in this business you have to put words to those photos.” And so I did. My first article was about a newly established bluebird nesting box project set up at Jacobsburg State Park in Northampton County. I submitted it to Pennsylvania Game News who bought it. When I ecstatically phoned Tom with the news that I got a check for $125 for the piece, Tom replied by saying he could never sell a piece to Game News, but added that he was proud of me.
Subsequent to that, Tom was going on vacation with his wife Betty Lou (it was turkey hunt vacation if I recall) and he asked me to do a piece for his weekly nature column at the Morning Call. The title was to be “Teaching a child about nature,” where I used my young son at the time as the student for the column. Upon reading it Tom said, “You know, you’re a pretty good writer and should continue writing as the more you write, the better you get.” I took his advice after he suggested I propose an outdoor column for the Quakertown Free Press, a weekly paper he started out writing for while teaching high school biology at East Penn School District. I did and it ran for some 15 years.
Just prior to that gig, Tom sponsored me for apprentice membership in Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association, that, at the time, meant you’re almost a made member of the outdoors writing community.
Tom's generosity continued throughout the years as he allowed me to hunt at his former Walnutport home that was complete with a scattering of tree stands over his 34 wooded acres. But that’s not the entire story. Over the years he and Betty Lou lived there, I shot more bucks on his property than he did. And that was because he gave me the best stand on his property that came to be called “Nicks stand.” Talk about a great person.
Toward his final years before retiring from the Call, Tom again called on me to write the weekly fishing report that he used to do for the Call. I was elated and appreciative that he continued to give me opportunities that I could not have gotten without his help and influence.
Aside from hunting and fishing around the world for his many interesting and fascinating outdoor columns, Tom wrote 10 children’s books, four of which were award winners and ones I passed down to my grandchildren. And in 2008, I was proudly present in Harrisburg when he received the “Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show’s Outdoor Youth Mentor Award for his work promoting the outdoors for kids.
Other than his Morning Call columns, Tom was a field editor for Outdoor Life and was a prolific columnist for a variety of magazines including North American Hunter, Buckmasters where he was a personal friend of publisher Jackie Bushman, Whitetail News, Turkey Call and other magazines. Through his promoting of turkey management, Tom was inducted into Pennsylvania’s Turkey Hunter Hall of Fame.
Television wise, he was the host for a number of years for “Call of the Outdoors,” a WGAL-TV outdoors show in Lancaster. It was here where Tom gave me my first taste of TV work. As it was a mid-winter show, Tom knew I wrote ski columns for a couple local newspapers so he asked me to come on the show to do a segment on cross-country skiing where I dressed in skintight XC ski garb (couldn’t fit in it today).
Even after my writing career had blossomed, Tom continued to provide other opportunities that without him I would never have experienced.
I will surely miss Tom, his guidance, close friendship and unrelenting words of wisdom he freely offered. I love ya Tom. You were one of a kind.
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