By Kevin Tate/Outdoors Writer
One of my new friends in the outdoor writing business is going away. In one way, he’s still with us. In another, he’s almost gone. Somewhere in between, a testament to love and loyalty lies.
Tom Fegely is a living legend in the outdoor writing community. He’s been published in every major magazine that carries outdoor tales, written 10 books including five for children, produced radio and television shows, served his fellows through outdoor media trade associations and directly mentored legions of new communicators who wanted to learn to do what he did, which was share what the natural world meant to him and his wife, Betty Lou.
“I never hunted before I met Tom,” Betty Lou Fegely says, “but once he shared what he did with me I was hooked. He spent his hunting time after that teaching me.”
In the decades since, the couple from Pennsylvania has become a powerful duo in the outdoor media world, a world from which they’ve largely withdrawn in the past few years since Tom was diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia, a progressive condition similar to Alzheimer’s. Tom once was a peerless raconteur, a sharer of memories through word and image, as strong in voice as in print. Now, just past his 70th birthday, talks with Tom are guided by Betty Lou. When his eyes reflect uncertainty, hers show patience and grace, framed by a loving smile. But there’s more than just love there. Not far below her countenance, there’s a reserve of iron. Lots of it.
I’ve only just recently come to know them. I’ve known of them forever it seems but, by the time I knew them as friends, they’d both accepted the diagnosis and what it means. For the public, Tom’s work is a matter of record. For their friends, Betty Lou’s spirit is a remarkable example of how far love and resolve can go, and how well. You can see her love in the way she looks at him. You can see her strength in the way she looks at the world.
Today amid warm company, in the byways of busy places, Tom shares his memories as he can. You can see they’re still there, all of them, but it’s as though they’ve become disassociated one from another. Like tumblers of a combination lock spinning free of the wheel, Tom’s yesterdays roam free from restraint, mixing one with another until present and future fall from reliability. Occasionally as the wheels turn and slow, there are moments when recognition clicks into place and the famous wit cracks like a whip across the room. Laughter roars triumphant as those around welcome their old friend back from nowhere, back from corners of his mind where none may now follow. Then, inevitably, the wheels turn their separate ways again and the quick light fades from his eyes. Each time the shades are drawn, when he’ll return is not known. Are these moments happy or sad? Both, I would think, though, in her acceptance, Betty Lou takes them for what they are: small miracles, blessings, quick connections to the consciousness of a loved one neither here nor gone.
In this way, a couple that has taught so much to so many is teaching still, demonstrating a power beyond definition. Life is a journey, one over soon enough. Today, they’re accepting what each day brings. You can see it in their eyes.
Kevin Tate is V.P. of Media Productions for Mossy Oak in West Point.