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Born: Dec 27, 1983

Date of Passing: Sep 03, 2020

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Everybody loved "Tommy." He was so smart, lightning quick, an uncanny mimic, a prankster and stand-up funny. He was a loving husband, a generous friend, a true heart. He was a meticulous carpenter who created masterpieces in wood. He was a rock climber, a biker, a spear fisher, a hunter, an extreme fighter, and a roadie and guitar player. He was a believer in aloha, and the Hawaiian way of treating the elderly as "aunties and uncles." It felt good when he was around.
Everybody knew all this about Tommy and loved him for it. Everybody, that is, except Thomas Edward Caillier, who died suddenly in Winnipeg on September 3, 2020.
He was born on December 27, 1983, in Newcastle, a small rail and coal centre on the eastern edge of Wyoming "where the sagebrush and cactus meet the Black Hills."
Tommy took charge of his own life at age 13, earning his own money, feeding himself, getting to school, helping his mom. By 14 he was driving to school, then to work stocking shelves, then home far outside of town. It's not uncommon in rural Wyoming for kids to have "hardship" licences.
"Like me, he had a wayward childhood growing up on the street," a friend said.
He was a caution, as they say, in school. A born athlete with uncommon strength, he found great success in sports and made several all-star teams. But it was at White Rock, a boulder field near his home, that he found the sport that best challenged his mind and body - free-style boulder climbing, more simply called "bouldering."
The field formed over millions of years as rock calved off a limestone ridge, creating a vast jumble of boulders 30 and 40 feet high. Tommy and a friend spent all their free time climbing among those rocks - evenings, weekends, even overnight in winter "to see what we were made of."
Bouldering is a sport in which climbers are equipped with nothing more than "sticky" shoes and chalk powder to keep their fingers dry. The challenge is to find a route to the top using balance and strength to overcome "problems," the most common of which are the lack of handholds within reach, forcing climbers to "lunge" for gaps or ridges, often no wider than a fingertip.
It is dangerous. Serious injury is not uncommon. Tommy once splinted a young woman's broken leg using tent poles and shoelaces, formed his arms into a chair and carried her more than a mile across the rocks to a car.
Bouldering led Tommy to the sandstone spires of the Black Hills, the beauty of Spearfish Canyon, and the 800-foot Devil's Tower, which Tommy climbed three times. The Black Hills claimed his soul. "They are weird and mystical, full of beauty, wildlife and opportunities for adventure," his climbing buddy said. "Nature was our church, basically, and that's what we held sacred."
It could be said that the extreme risk / reward challenge he found in bouldering was what he sought in everything he did. "He was the bravest. He'd do anything. Just go for it."
Tommy could have dropped out of school anytime, but he persisted, and graduated far from home in Coos Bay, Oregon. He drifted to Denver, where he became the lighting designer at a music club. He met and partied with a lot of famed musicians and toured with some.
He moved to the Hawaiian Islands, first to Maui then Kauai, where he trained with a cabinet maker who taught him "precision and a love of wood," lessons that led to a career as a finish carpenter renowned for his skill, his drive and his heart. "It was always a joy to work with him." a colleague said. "He was always entertaining, a prankster snapping one-liners. He just brightened the morale on the job site, everybody having fun and doing good work."
At home he was Tommy, on the job he was Thomas, a sign of respect. His drive and competitiveness left a mark as memorable as his humour. Thomas challenged everyone to step up their game, to do more and better, which not only caught the attention of supervisors, but "a circle" of the best carpenters who took such pride in craftsmanship that they never wanted for work.
The custom homes Thomas helped build ranged from $4 million to $20 million. Jobs could last two years. Owners were demanding and Tommy was often tasked with meeting their demands. On one site, the owner wanted a deck built incorporating lava rock scattered naturally over the property. Thomas was given the job of covering the deck with rare Brazilian ipe wood. He spent four days scribing the pieces so precisely that they fit the rocks perfectly, creating the illusion that the rocks were standing on the wood, islands surrounded by calm water.
"The owner was speechless," a colleague said. "Thomas was always wound up but when it came to wood he was different. His eye for detail was so good. He would get zoned. It would have a calming effect on him."
"He was way beyond his years in carpentry," another said. "I can't think of a single time he made a mistake. His work was his stamp. That was his identity. Everything was a competition with him. A competition but with no malice. Just a push to test his limits, to go to the edge and put one toe over."
Tommy's friends praised his kindness and generosity. "He didn't let everybody in, but people who were in were part of his pack. You felt safer when he was around. There was nothing he wouldn't do for someone he liked. There was no end of the road."
He loved kids and they loved him right back. His boundless playfulness and teasing nonsense were infectious. "I've got a bike just like that but mine's smaller," he might say. Once he spotted a friend's daughter selling Girl Guide cookies outside a supermarket. He ran to an ATM, withdrew $100 and bought her out.
In 2009, Tommy called a friend in Denver. "I've found a great girl," he said. "She's really good for me." The great girl was Heather Flood, a Winnipeg plant scientist doing research for an international seed company on Kauai. They were a great match - driven, creative, meticulous, fun loving - but also different in complimentary ways. Tommy loved to joke, Heather loved to laugh. Heather made designs, Tommy made them real. They loved animals and the outdoors. They married in 2013.
Two years ago, Tommy and Heather decided to move to Winnipeg - she to pursue a PhD and he to start a custom home renovation business. They bought a house near the University of Manitoba and leased it while they returned to Kauai and began the long complicated process of securing permanent resident status for Tommy. All the pieces were falling into place early this year. Then the Covid-19 pandemic hit. The immigration process ground to a halt. Travel became arduous. Even so, they managed to enter Canada in May after a cross-country dash from Seattle to Emerson.
The whole family's joy following their arrival was tragically cut short on September 3, 2020.
Thomas Caillier was predeceased by his sister Amanda and is survived by his wife Heather, his parents, Cynthia and Ronald, brothers, Gabriel and Joseph, nephew Corbin, and numerous aunts, uncles and cousins. His friends are legion.
Special thanks to Pat Maus, Luke Newlin and Chris Yandow for their help in preparing this obituary.
If family and friends so desire, donations could be made to the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba or a favourite children's charity.

For those who wish to sign the online
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Chapel Lawn Funeral Home

As published in Winnipeg Free Press on Sep 26, 2020

Condolences & Memories (2 entries)

  • My condolences, Heather, and Tom's friends and family. I'm so sorry for your loss. - Posted by: Colleen Wilson (Friend) on: Oct 16, 2020

  • Our condolences, we wish we had gotten to meet and get to know Tommy. He sounds like a such wonderful man. We are never fully prepared for the loss of a loved one, no matter how long or short their time is with us. You are in our thoughts and prayers. Love Delanne & Bob - Posted by: Delanne & Bob Burgoyne (Aunt) on: Sep 28, 2020

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