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Thomas James Forshaw

Son, brother, friend, musician, sports enthusiast, ladies' man. Born March 21, 1952, in Fort William, Ont. Died July 14, 2011, in Thunder Bay of Alzheimer's disease, aged 59.

They came from all walks of life to Tom Forshaw's funeral.

A woman from Tim Hortons told how Tom would come for coffee every Sunday after church with his brother John – and would graciously kiss her hand each time she served him.

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Tom was a charmer.

Another spoke about how, upon boarding a city bus, Tom would scan the passengers to spot the prettiest girl to sit beside, and sometimes even lean his head on her shoulder.

Tom was a true ladies' man – and on good days, a disarming one.

A resident at one of Tom's group homes spoke with lasting gratitude about the way Tom had befriended him when he had arrived to live at the house.

Tom's story was his own, but it was also that of a generation of mentally disabled people who, like him, were born with Down syndrome. He was the youngest of four children, born to Jim and Jessie Forshaw in Fort William, Ont., in 1952.

He lived at home for his first 12 years, then moved to the huge Rideau Regional Centre in Smiths Falls in Eastern Ontario. Tom returned to Fort William (now Thunder Bay) a short time later and lived out his teen years in a new children's wing of a local institution.

With the move toward deinstitutionalizing, Tom was among the first to be moved into a series of group homes – some quite opulent.

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The remaining four decades of his life were a testament to the value of this community-based approach. Tom's life was enriched by a continuous array of cultural and recreational pursuits, including trips to the United States and participation in sports such as bowling, floor hockey, curling and swimming.

It was during these years that the local Free Methodist Church became a central part of Tom's life. Thanks to the determined guidance of his mother, he remained an integral member of his own loving family, all of whom lived in Thunder Bay.

Tom was a lifelong music aficionado. When he came home for family visits on Sunday afternoons, he would spend hours listening to his favourite records or flailing away on his drums. It was a rare pipe band that passed Tom by without him wanting to fall in behind it.

When Tom slid into Alzheimer's disease, Community Living Thunder Bay initiated a new and innovative level of palliative care. He died at home in his own bed, a first for the local group homes.

Tom was passionate, affectionate and charming, not to mention stubborn as hell. Most of all he was a good son, a loyal brother and a good and gracious friend to many.

The crowd that gathered to remember him was the ultimate proof of that.

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By Murray Angus, Tom's cousin.

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