OBITUARY: Thomas Dawson Callahan

Thomas Dawson Callahan died peacefully on January 20th at Quail Park Memory Care in West Seattle, surrounded by family. He was 94. He was born in Portland, Oregon in 1929. His parents divorced when he was young, and during that upheaval, he and his sister grew very close. Their mother later married a construction worker, and they moved frequently in their younger years. Eventually the family settled in Manning, Oregon, where they ran a small café. They had a succession of Airdale dogs, all named Bang. Tom graduated from Hillsboro High School in nearby Hillsboro, Oregon. His high school years included selling a photograph of a burning building to the local newspaper, and earning a marksmanship medal in rifle shooting.

Tom graduated from Oregon State College (now Oregon State University) where he took lots of classes that sounded interesting, which fortunately added up to a degree in Science. As an NROTC graduate he went directly on to active duty, with a brief few days off for his wedding to Gere Ann Schreiner. Their marriage lasted nearly 60 years-until her death in 2011.

His daughter and son were both born during the Navy years, but when Tom left active duty in 1955, the family moved to Condon, Oregon, where Gere Ann grew up and where her parents still lived. Tom went to work for his father-in-law, who owned a Chevron service station. He also continued to be active in the Naval Reserve.

Tom was one of those fortunate few who had a clear passion in life and was able to not only pursue it for fun, but also as a career. And that passion was flying. As a toddler he had, not a peddle car, but a peddle airplane. He demanded his sister push him faster because he was sure more speed would allow him to be airborne. When he was about 14 he convinced his mother to sign a permission slip, and also convinced an instructor to take him on as a flight student at the local airport. Tom and Gere Ann both talked about special dates when they would go to the airport to watch planes take off and land.

Flying for the Navy did not turn out to be an option, but in Condon, Tom was very active in the local Civil Air Patrol group. He earned his instructor's license and taught several of the locals to fly light planes. Eventually, greater opportunity called when he saw a small ad in the back of Flying Magazine. He applied to United Airlines to become a flight instructor and was accepted. Before he finished that training session, he saw pilot openings posted in the employee cafeteria. He applied and was accepted as a pilot.

Tom flew Boeing 727s for his entire career. He really enjoyed flying that plane. His daughter once toured a 727 on display at the Field Museum in Chicago and sent him a picture of it. He noted the tail number on it and commented that he'd done a check ride in that specific plane. A man of detail! After retiring, he continued to "fly" by enjoying the new flight simulation opportunities afforded by computer software.

One of the facets of being a commercial airlines pilot is that each month the pilots bid for a work schedule. Which schedule they get is largely a function of seniority within the domicile city, as well as within the entire company. Dad once remarked that most pilots he knew bid for maximum work time (translating to maximum pay), or groups of days off (allowing them to engage in additional business opportunities). But Tom always consulted first with Gere Ann regarding family birthdays, school holidays, etc. in prioritizing his schedule preferences.

One of the other hallmarks of Tom's life was his wry sense of humor. When his son was tiny and newly home from the hospital, they had him in bed with them one morning. While trying to change his diaper, Mark started to pee and the stream shot across the bed and hit the bedroom wall. Gere Ann yelled, "Tom- do something!" Tom ran out of the room and returned with a tape measure!

One summer when his children were in high school. Tom got a tip that some of their friends were going to come and TP the house. He proceeded to booby trap the entire front of the house. He found a recording of spooky music and cued it up, set up sprinklers on the front lawn, and rigged up floodlights across the front of the house. Each family member had an assigned station. A car pulled up, several girls got out, and as they began to move across the front yard with rolls of toilet paper in hand, the sound, lights, and sprinklers all came on at once. Needless to say, the house did NOT get TP'd!

Gere Ann took up knitting in the 70's and when Tom became a co-pilot he asked her to knit him a single sleeve, with a loop at the top that he could attach to the shoulder of his uniform shirt. He found that the cockpit was comfortable except right next to the window, and he only needed one sleeve to keep that window side arm warm. The first time he wore it at work, the pilot asked him what it was. "You've heard of a sleeveless sweater," he said. "This is a sweaterless sleeve!"

Tom was preceded in death by his wife, Gere Ann Schreiner Callahan (2011); his son, Mark Schreiner Callahan (1989); and his sister, Mariella Callahan (2023). He is survived by his daughter, Ann Schreiner Callahan (Terry Hendrickson); and granddaughter Emma Callahan Woodbrook (Peter Woodbrook).

Tom left a file folder labeled "Thoughts to keep, in case of..." This quote provides a way forward: "May you open your eyes and your heart to the beauty that is around you, to the strength that lies within you, and to all that lies before you...one day at a time."

Services will be included during regular Saturday morning mass at 8:45am on February 3, 2024 at Holy Rosary Church in West Seattle (4139 42nd Ave SW, Seattle, WA 98116). Reception follows in the Parish Center, across the street. Remembrances can be made to the Gilliam County Library in Condon (PO Box 34, Condon, OR 97823); the Alzheimer's Association (alz.org), or any hospice organization of your choice. Burial to take place at the Condon Cemetery on a date yet to be determined.

 

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