By Wadena News Staff
Wadena and surrounding communities paid a final tribute to Terry Tompkins last weekend, when over 700 people gathered on Feb. 18 to pay their respects to the long-time funeral director, marriage commissioner and former justice of the peace.
The news of Terry’s death spread quickly after he was rushed to the cardiac unit at Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon from Kelvington Hospital on Feb. 7 after he experienced sharp pains while preparing a grave site. While undergoing tests, he suffered cardiac arrest but sadly could not be revived. By mid-morning the next day, most were in shock at the news of his death.
Tributes to his compassion, personality, faith, and love of laughter began pouring in to his colleagues at the funeral home that bears his name, and to his wife Wanda, who was at his side at the hospital and to whom he had been joyously married for only a few short years.
Comments left by many on the Tompkins Funeral Home website describe him as “respectful, honest, funny, and an all around genuine person;” “he made you feel like everything is going to be OK;” “he was kind and gentle and warm and giving … He has given so much to our family and touched our lives in so very many ways;” and “I cannot recall a kinder heart, or a more giving spirit.”
The Wadena News has worked very closely with Terry since the funeral home started in 1992. Aside from providing printing services for Tompkins Funeral Home, often Terry came in for inspiration, especially around Remembrance Day, looking for ideas on which to base his message for the service he had led for many years at Wishart. When burning the midnight oil to complete extra pages at Christmas, Terry would show up with a full 4L pail of ice cream in hand as a treat for News staff – literally at midnight. And when he needed to vent – we were there. But none of us can forget the singing of ‘Happy Birthday’ for whoever’s day it was, coming from on top of one of the desks in the middle of the office and from the top of his lungs.
Terry was so very humble yet was always a huge presence. He comforted so many who have experienced tremendous, and sometimes tragic, loss. He agonized over what to say every time he presided over a funeral service because he wanted it to be right, just and meaningful for the person he was honouring and for the families he served.
At the tribute service on Sunday, Pastor Bill Dyck asked those gathered to raise their hands if they had been married or attended a wedding at which Terry presided. Probably half of the audience put up their hands. He could “light up the room” with his presence, put everyone at ease with his words and endearing humour, no matter the occasion.
After serving for 27 years as a justice of the peace, Sgt. Burton Jones said, “When we called Terry, his answer was always, ‘I’ll be right over,’” which summed up Terry’s consummate desire to be of service at any time to any one.
When the Pipestone Men’s Choir was formed, there was Terry, signing his heart out as he loved to do. For those who have been to a performance, you knew there were shenanigans on the playlist when the conspicuous woman showed up, and who sounded much like Terry, in a red dress with a perfectly coiffed blonde wig and black fishnet stockings. We can only imagine how difficult it was for the choir members, as they had just finished a performance in Wynyard days before he died, having to “sing” goodbye a little more than a week later.
Next to getting that fancy new-to-him hearse for the business from California, the day Terry married Wanda was perhaps his happiest in recent years. The two were inseparable as Terry walked around with the headset permanently stuck in his ear while running errands, chatting with Wanda as he went about his business. And if you were talking to Terry, it quickly became a friendly three-way conversation.
Empathy has been defined as the ability to “see with the eyes of another, listen with the ears of another, and feel with the heart of another.” Terry was one of those rare few whose compassion for others never seemed to falter.
Many have asked over the past week, “So who is going to replace Terry?” To the news office staff, he was “Batman,” our colleague, confidant and friend, and the truth is, there is no replacement for Terry.