It only took four days for 77-year-old Jim Tomlin to go from an amiable and much-loved father, husband, friend, and teacher to Montana’s first death from COVID-19 on Thursday, March 26.
Jim Tomlin lived with his wife, Marcia Hunter Tomlin, on Bull Lake about 20 miles south of Troy in rural northwestern Montana. His son, G. Scott Tomlin, wanted to amplify and share the meaning of his father’s death, so he wrote a long public post on Facebook about the odyssey that began on Monday.
Jim Tomlin was initially taken to a hospital in Libby with “fever, headaches, confusion and some coughing,” according to Scott’s post. He was immediately quarantined, and by Wednesday evening was put on a ventilator and transferred to a hospital in Kalispell, where the “conversations with the doctor revolve around his DNR [do not resuscitate] order.”
By noon on Thursday, the post said, the doctor was predicting a “5% chance of survival.”
The post’s final line reads“4:37 PM He is gone.”
Writing the post was therapeutic, Scott said Friday from his home in Bellevue, Washington.
“My dad was a lifelong educator, and I think he’d like to continue educating people. He’d want people to know that you can help and that your actions matter.”—G. Scott Tomlin
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He said he also “wanted people to understand and know what it’s like, because you can’t interview the victim. Isolation and uncertainty are two of the worst symptoms we have right now, and it goes beyond those who have the disease.”
Through Jim’s confusion, testing, treatment, and eventually coma, he was alone aside from medical personnel. His last rites, and his wife’s last communication with him, were delivered over the phone.
“This story was made worse for me because of isolation,” Scott said. “To not be able to hold his hand in his last days.”
Jim Tomlin taught high school biology for 40 years, and Scott wants his father’s legacy to continue.
“My dad was a lifelong educator, and I think he’d like to continue educating people,” Scott said. “He’d want people to know that you can help and that your actions matter. [COVID-19 is] real even in small towns — Troy and Libby are not immune. We have to do something drastic. Everyone needs to take action, and it’s going to suck. I hope this motivates some people.”
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Scott said Jim and Marcia had just returned from a vacation, having driven to the West Coast, including California, and back. Scott said the family has no idea where Jim might have contracted the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. His was the first reported case in Lincoln County. According to Libby newspaper The Western News, a second case has since been reported there. Scott said that the second case is not his stepmother.
Jim was “a man that had a large circle of family and friends that became family,” Scott said. “The lives that he was able to touch and have an effect on people their entire lives, it’s gone, but it will live on in that community.”