Thomas J. Walsh CM, QC, LLD (hon)
Tom Walsh has long served as a dedicated and caring member of the community of leaders and volunteers who make Alberta a great province. His influence can be seen in programs that have become essential components of the quality of life enjoyed by his fellow Calgarians.
Thomas Joseph Walsh came into the world in Winnipeg, Manitoba on March 2, 1927. He lived in the Canadian Pacific Railway stations where his father worked as the station agent, first in Rosser, Sidney and Birtle, Manitoba and later in Oxbow Saskatchewan. He inherited his father Thomas’ love of travelling the rails. The examples of his father and his mother Ann, who was a registered nurse, showed Tom the importance of serving others whether it was offering a kind word to a weary traveler, helping a neighbour in need or volunteering around town. Tom and his sister, Martina, grew up in a household that always seemed to find itself at the heart of the community.
Tom happily admits that he wasn’t a great scholar. He preferred to focus his energies on the wealth of people and stories that passed through the station, his growing roster of friends and sports activities and exploring the world around him with the use of the free train pass that came with his father’s position. Eventually, that pass delivered him to Edmonton and the University of Alberta.
His studies began in 1946 in a special Bachelor of Arts program offering an accelerated route to law school. Tom majored in history because he enjoyed exploring the people and motivations behind the world’s great events. However, Tom’s great love of life and people also conspired for a time to keep him from graduating. He joined the Delta Epsilon fraternity, was active in student activities and won both a coveted Gold “A” ring and a Big Block “A” sweater. Importantly, he met his future wife, Anne Millican.
He earned his pilot’s wings with the Royal Canadian Air Force through the University Air Training Plan and flew as a reservist during the school year. For a time, he considered a flying career. Tom ultimately refocused on his legal studies thanks to the unwavering support of his mother, some sage advice from his father and a few pointed words from the Dean of Law.
Tom graduated in 1953 and married Anne in her native Calgary that same year. Tom’s main priority has always been his wife and family, which grew to include five children: Jacqueline, Elizabeth, Martina, Lesley and Patrick. All five children would go on to earn university degrees and settle in Calgary. As his family expanded, so did Tom’s career. He started with a Calgary lawyer who taught him the ins and outs of running a successful law practice before establishing a firm that would become a thriving enterprise in its own right. Tom enjoyed real property law, which was a perfect fit for his positive outlook. It afforded him the pleasure of meeting families in their homes, sharing in the excitement of the moment and being part of what he describes as a “win-win transaction for everyone involved.”
Tom’s clients weren’t the only ones to benefit from his energy, time and enthusiasm. His volunteer contributions grew to include service as a director, chairman or president of organizations such as the Downtown Calgary Rotary Club, the Calgary Family Service Bureau, the United Way, the Fort Calgary Preservation Society, the Calgary Tourist and Convention Bureau, the city’s Centennial Celebrations Committee, the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, the Calgary Economic Development Authority and the Calgary Winter Festival. He has also enjoyed a long association with the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede where he served in a number of senior volunteer capacities before being named a life member in 2008. Tom has completed terms as a Senator for the University of Alberta and as a member of the Faculty of Management Advisory Council at the University of Calgary.
Although his contributions to the quality of life enjoyed by his fellow Calgarians have been far ranging, it could be argued that two projects have particularly benefitted from Tom’s leadership. In 1984, Tom received a call from then Calgary mayor Ralph Klein asking him to taking on an innovative project at that time – the establishment of the Calgary Parks Foundation. Under Tom’s guidance, it became an important step in the development of the city’s parks and recreational spaces. Tom was also an early contributor to the development of the Calgary International Airport as a transportation hub through his role as a member of the original Calgary Airports Authority team.
Tom’s contributions on the national level also include service as a member of the Canadian Airports Council and Airports Council International, his work as a director of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and as national president of the Canadian Bar Association.
Tom Walsh has received numerous honours for his commitment to community service. He is a Member of the Order of Canada and holds an Honourary Doctorate of Laws degree from his alma mater. He is a recipient of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal, the Paul Harris Fellowship from Rotary International, the Canada 125 Commemorative Medal, the City of Calgary Centennial Award of Merit, a Distinguished Service Award from the Canadian Bar Association and the David Gibson Award from the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.
Tom doesn’t adhere to a formal life philosophy. He says that he simply prefers “to live everyday as it comes, try to be fair and honest in dealings with others and never try to be someone I’m not.” What he is, and what he has always been, is a kind, hard working, and enthusiastic supporter of the city, province and country he’s proud to call home.