Obituary : Tom A. "Dilly" Walsh
Thomas Aquinas "Dilly" Walsh, 62, died at his home in Chilmark on December 1 after a two and a half year journey with ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig's disease).
Dilly was born in New York City to Mildred "Billie" Walsh and the late Thomas Walsh, and attended St. Gabriel's School. He grew up between Quogue, N.Y., and Palm Beach, and attended the Canterbury School in Conn. Dilly went on to graduate from St. Michael's College in Vermont with a degree in business management, where he met many life-long friends. Dilly became a successful real estate investment broker, and enjoyed this passion for more than 35 years.
He first arrived on the Island to visit some college friends on a hot July day in 1968 and it was "love at first visit," as he would describe it. He announced that he "would never leave the Island," and he never did. He worked as a bartender at the Boston House, The Lampost and, for many years, at his beloved Square Rigger.
He met his wife Barbara (Kutz) while four-wheel driving on South Beach and fell in love with the woman he described as "the most beautiful woman on the Island." They were soul mates in every crazy way, including a shared passion for their "storybook" Island and everything it had to offer. They were married in Edgartown at St. Elizabeth's in 1974.
Dilly and Barbara raised their three children, Kara, 25, Marisa, 23, and Dylan, 20, in Dover and on the Vineyard. He and Barbara also shared a love of travel that has been passed on to their children. They have traveled extensively all over the U.S., Canada, the Caribbean Islands, and Central America. The "Walsh Family Five" traveling team was a delight to behold as they passed through airports with mounds of luggage, snorkels, flippers, skis, or whatever equipment was required for their adventures.
Dilly was a person who attracted friends like bees to honey. His friends came from every walk of life, race, religion, and social strata. He was as comfortable and welcoming with the homeless and downtrodden as he was with the rich and powerful on the Island - "Paupers and Kings" as one of his writer friends so aptly put it when describing his wide array of very beloved friends.
His interests were as varied as his friendships. He loved natural beauty in all of its forms, surfcasting, body surfing, and collecting buoys and stones on the Island beaches. He loved his gardens, full of tomatoes, and birdfeeders for the neighborhood variety. Dilly knew so much about so many things, and delighted anyone in talking about all of them. He and Barbara adventured as a team through the years.
It was on one of these trips that they discovered the Turks and Caicos Islands where, once again, they fell in love. They bought a beautiful home, Place De La Sol, on the beach at Taylor Bay in Providenciales. This became their Christmas vacation headquarters every year and another venue for them to entertain countless family members and guests in true Walsh style. And Dilly became a very popular character with Islanders and visitors alike over the years.
Dilly was diagnosed with ALS in 2007 and accepted the news with courage, grace, and dignity. His first words about the disease to his closest friends were, "Don't cry for me. I have had a great run in life and a lot of good fortune. Worry about the people who have this disease who have no resources and no family support to get them through." And that is what he decided to make his life's work until the end, raising money for Compassionate Care ALS (CCALS), a nonprofit organization that serves the individual needs of ALS patients and families, providing holistic support, equipment, guidance and a willing ear as they struggle with all of the issues that present themselves with this terrible disease. In 2008 he and his family organized and hosted a Vineyard Night for Compassionate Care ALS, which included a lovely dinner, live and silent auctions, and dancing til' the wee hours in the backyard of their home on Middle Road.
The event raised more than $100,000 for CCALS. In July of 2009, with the disease wracking his body and stealing his voice, he still managed to rally his family and friends to repeat the effort and raised even more than the first event. At the 2009 event he brought a fabulous Rip Saw band from the Turks and Caicos to play at the event along with the Vineyard's own Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish, who combined for a magical night that attendees will never forget.
Upon diagnosis he immediately volunteered to become a participant in the Mass General Hospital ALS research program, and continued to participate until his death. Together with Senator John Kerry, a friend, he was also instrumental in the passage of the ALS Registry Act that documents the number of ALS cases in the country and is invaluable for ALS research.
In addition to his wife and three children, he is survived by his mother, Mildred "Billie" Walsh, his sisters, Barbara Freehill and Constance Walsh, and his many nieces and nephews.
Visiting hours will be in the Chapman, Cole and Gleason Funeral Home, located on the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road in Oak Bluffs on Friday, Dec. 4 from 4 to 7 pm. His Funeral Mass will be celebrated in Our Lady Star of the Sea Church, located on Massasoit Avenue in Oak Bluffs, on Saturday, Dec. 5 at 11 am. A private burial for the family will take place after cremation at a later date. Donations may be made in his name online at CCALS.org or if you wish to donate by mail, please make checks out to Compassionate Care ALS and mail them to: Compassionate Care ALS P.O. Box 1052 West Falmouth, MA 02574.