Obituary of Thomas V. Fisher
Thomas Vincent Fisher (January 12, 1939 - June 7, 2020)
Dad was a man of few words. His five children wrote this obituary, and we assure you, the early parts took some serious digging. What we do know is that his actions as a husband, a father, and a community member spoke volumes, and we will forever be inspired by his strong character, work ethic, ability to calm and humor any room, and his infinite love of family.
Thomas Vincent Fisher was born in the Bronx on January 12, 1939, to the late Gerald and Florence (Haage) Fisher. Dad was their second son; their first, Jim, was five years older. Dad didn't share much about his childhood. We know he played stickball in the street, was not a fan of school even though he was usually the smartest guy in the room, and that Dad's father and Jim were diehard Yankees fans while he and his mom were Brooklyn Dodgers fans. He was raised Catholic, and his faith was profound, accepting of all, and of great comfort to him his entire life. In 1951, when Dad was 12, his father died tragically. We are so grateful that our parents were ahead of their time, willing to talk about difficult subjects, always encouraging us to consider all sides with empathy and compassion.
When his father passed, his mother enrolled Dad in the Maryknoll seminary, then she entered the convent and became a nun, which she remained for the rest of her life. Dad spent his teen years in the seminary on the path to the priesthood and graduated from Maryknoll College in Glen Ellyn, Ill., with a bachelor's degree in philosophy. Then, perhaps as abruptly as he entered the seminary, he chose to depart it, and that is how we are all here to tell you his story.
After his departure (within 48 hours, or so we remember being told), Dad headed to Times Square and enlisted in the Marine Corps. He quickly ascended as an officer candidate and pilot, training in T-34s and T-2s and flying F-9s and F-11s before flying the F-4B Phantom II, a Mach 2 interceptor by design, as a Marine fighter bomber.
To many of us, Dad was defined by this dichotomy between seminarian and Marine. While stationed in Pensacola, Fla., a well-known story within the family has it that Dad was at a bar, perhaps looking to beguile the ladies by telling them his mother was a nun. The line may not have been a hit with others, but luckily for us, he caught the attention of an elementary school teacher, far from her Illinois home, who was intrigued by this dashing young Marine. In a few short months, that young woman would become his wife and our mom.
During his time in the Marine Corps, Mom and Dad would be stationed in Florida, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Texas, and Dad was deployed to Vietnam. Our family would start during that time, enduring the stresses of disconnection and war, with daughters born in Cherry Point, N.C., Park Ridge, Ill., and Beeville, Texas. In Vietnam, from air bases in Da Nang and Chu Lai, with Marine Fighter Attack Squadrons 115 and 531, Dad flew more than 230 missions in his F-4B over Vietnam and Laos. He would return from a 13-month deployment to be a flight instructor, teaching new pilots how to operate from aircraft carriers, before his honorable discharge in 1969 with the rank of Major. That's about all we knew about his service. Dad did not regale us with stories, except for the occasional tale that would hint at some much broader and impressive experience, like the times he safely landed at Subic Bay without hydraulics, scraping the runway with his tail hook, or when ordnance had not cleanly separated from the pylon and a bomb dropped from his aircraft upon landing, careening across the airfield to detonate and destroy a Lockheed Constellation, or the time he got lit up by Chinese surface-to-air missile radar while transiting past Hainan in the South China Sea. But those stories were always related with a self-deprecating wit, highlighting foibles, not bravery or ability.
Many years later, however, while moving our parents out of their home and after Dad's memory had receded, Mom produced a folder and said, "Your father took this folder down from the attic, and it's been sitting next to his desk for months. I don't know what's in it." Inside we found awards of which he never spoke, and we were never aware, that revealed the true valor and skill wielded by our father, stating, in part:
"The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting a gold star in lieu of the seventeenth air medal to Captain Thomas Vincent Fisher, United States Marine Corps ... for heroic achievement in aerial flight ... Disregarding his own safety, he ... contributed significantly to the safe extraction of the besieged reconnaissance team. Captain Fisher's courage, superb airmanship and unwavering devotion to duty at great personal risk were in keeping with the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and of the United States Naval Service."
"Outstanding performance of duty ... providing exceptional close air support to Korean Units ... the superior aeronautical ability he exhibited ... enabled the friendly force to withdraw to a safer position ... His aeronautical ability, technical knowledge … and coolness under fire ... was in keeping with the highest standards of the 1st Marine Air Wing."
All told, the commendations detailed in that folder included a Presidential Unit Citation, a Cross of Gallantry awarded by the Republic of Vietnam, a National Defense Medal, an Air Medal with 17 Stars, a Vietnam Service Medal with 1 Star, a Vietnam Campaign Medal with Device, a certificate for completing the PACAF Jungle Survival School in the Philippines, a Pistol Expert Badge, and confirmation that he was a Rifle Sharpshooter.
We were stunned. And not surprised.
After leaving the Marine Corps, our family moved to New Jersey, where Dad completed a new transition from the military to service to his family and community. Mom and Dad chose Flemington for its school system to give their children, which now included two sons, the best opportunity to learn and enjoy a rich education, family life, and childhood. He initiated a long and dedicated career in the healthcare industry with Jelco, then after its acquisition, with Johnson & Johnson, in Raritan. He was initially hired as a production supervisor, then we remember him working the night shift, and eventually he would become the plant manager. He had a bowl of candies on his desk, which delighted us, and we would cheer him on while he played for the company softball team. When Arrow International acquired Critikon from Johnson & Johnson, Dad would oversee the manufacture of catheters in Indian Mills, driving three hours round trip each day to allow his family to prosper in Flemington. He cultivated the esteem and respect of his colleagues in business, who shared their affection for him at company picnics.
Dad served on the board of education in Flemington, guided seniors through the complexities of Medicare and Medicaid in New Jersey and Connecticut, and, when they moved to Brookfield, Conn., oversaw the management and sale of the water system for his homeowners' association to ensure water quality for all residents. Our favorite volunteer role? He was also a volunteer fireman, made even cooler by the scanner he kept on his bedside table. To this day, hearing a firehouse siren go off conjures memories of Dad grabbing his firefighting coat, pants, boots, and helmet, then sprinting two blocks away to the firehouse.
Dad taught us a lot of things, always by example. How to body surf a wave into shore. How to string a Christmas tree with multicolored lights, the lights separated just so to ensure complete coverage without the same color light ever appearing next to one another. How to build a fort with a Burkett's refrigerator box. How to ride and fix a bike, repair a leaky roof, build a shed, create homemade Halloween costumes, the art of Weber kettle cooking, and how to carve a turkey. Dad was a master at fitting all of our belongings, including our entire kitchen pantry, in and on top of our car in preparation for vacation. He was an avid runner, jogging several times a week into his early 70s. Dad showed up — to sit quietly at the foot of the bed to help his anxious child fall asleep, to work with his son-in-law to insulate his attic, to watch a grandchild play soccer or basketball or lacrosse or baseball, to babysit his grandchildren with special needs. Dad led comprehensive discussions of world affairs at the dinner table, often anticipating and showing keen insight into trends years before we might comprehend them. He would join his children to clean up after dinner, sometimes to the sounds of a baseball game or an old show on the radio, making dishwashing not so much a chore but a fondly-remembered experience, so much so that we still assemble as a family to wash the dishes after a holiday meal to share stories and laughter.
By his 70s, Dad slipped into dementia but he never lost his sense of humor, dominance at Blackjack, or love of watching baseball. When his body could no longer manage independent living, he transitioned to assisted living with his typical aplomb. He appointed himself custodian of the floor in his new home, looking out for others before himself. When he contracted Covid-19, Dad endured the hospitalization and discharge back to Chatham Hills Subacute Care Center with dignity and grace, and earned the admiration of doctors and staff. We treasured the extra few weeks we had with him, and wish to thank from the bottom of our hearts all the aides, EMTs, nurses, and doctors who cared for him. Special thanks to his cardiologist, Dr. Jason Noam Salamon, and the entire Chatham Hills staff, including medical director, Dr. Jason Prager.
In addition to his parents, Dad was predeceased by his brother, Jim, and grandson, Justin. He is survived by our mom, Linda (Halpin) Fisher; us, his five children, Eileen, Kate, Margaret, Mark, and Tim; our better halves, Michael, Rudy, Felicia, and Lucy; and grandchildren, Matthew, David, Sara, Ben, Olivia, Chloe, and Grace.
Funeral services for our dad will be held privately at the Madison Memorial Home. Interment will be held at Gate of Heaven Cemetery, Hawthorne, N.Y. To share a memory of our dad or send a note of condolence, please visit www.madisonmemorialhome.com
In lieu of flowers, please know that our father would greatly appreciate you volunteering your time to an organization of your choice, donating to a charity, or connecting spiritually or religiously with others in celebration of the greater good. If you are looking for some suggestions, our father was fond of the Flemington Fire Department, the Flemington-Raritan School District Board of Education, Maryknoll Lay Missioners, Medicare/Medicaid tutorials for seniors, community-led water quality testing efforts, and every Catholic church he's ever attended.
You thought we were done? Nah, we saved the best for last. Our parents were married for 55 years, and they were, in our eyes, soul mates. After meeting in that bar in Pensacola, just six months later, they married on the day after Christmas in 1964. Five children and countless pets, including Dad's most beloved, an Airedale named Chuza, ensued. Through a lifetime of family events — every Friday night being pizza and wine night, organizing annual block parties, attending Phillies games, playing Santa (beer and sugar cubes!) and building Lionel train sets, Easter Egg hunts, field trips to NYC, creative birthday party themes, basketball games in the backyard, football at the middle school, family vacations at the shore and road trips in the station wagon, and holiday celebrations with aunts and uncles and cousins and in-laws — Dad and Mom built a family that to this day is defined by love, devotion, humor, and respect. On April 22, 2020, while he was in the hospital being treated for Covid-19, Dad asked Mom if she would marry him. She said yes.
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