My Dad, Tom, was a television cameraman for more than three decades. He covered 8 different Olympic Games. He was gone every spring, covering the play by play action of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. He was a part of the broadcast team for countless CFL Grey Cups. He traveled the country and the world doing Indy races, Commonwealth Games, Brier matches, pro golf and more. He was behind the camera when the Pope & Queen came for visits, at G7 Summits & other major news events. He was the play by play camera for pretty much every Oilers game you saw on TV, and many Saturday night HNIC Flames games too. And when he was at home, he was simply the camera guy for the CBC Edmonton 6 o’clock news.
Thanks to ALS, my dad died in 2004 at the age of 57. With all due respect to cancer and the other giant killers, ALS is a shitty disease. It robbed my dad of his ability to talk, walk, eat and man Camera 3, while his mind remained active, alive and still ready to follow the puck.
My Dad was a huge influence on me, as many Dads are with their kids. He taught me how to wear my heart on my sleeve. How quiet types can wield enormous power. How generosity is actually a selfish act. How to be kind and humble, how to camp and how to not throw like a girl. But most importantly, he showed me how to have pride in your work. How to embrace every opportunity to be better.
In the days and weeks following his death, I couldn’t help but wonder if he made an impact on other people too. After the flowers and phone calls stop coming, and others move on as they should, will anyone else remember what he accomplished and the man he was?
Turns out, a few did.
My Dad was the first technician (the very, very behind the scenes guys) inducted into the CBC Sports Hall of Fame. This honour recognizes the broadcasters of CBC Sports who made a unique and lasting contribution to the CBC and the sports broadcasting community.
Over the years, inductees have typically been on-camera personalities or senior leaders in the sports broadcasting field. This commemorative coin was given out at the 2008 ceremony when my Dad was inducted. If you aren’t a CBC Sports fan, Irvin, Moir and Walker are all on-camera personalities, while Gordon Craig ran CBC Sports and was the man behind the start of TSN. And they were being recognized alongside my Dad. A camera guy who logged 12+ hour days, hauling cable, setting up and tearing down equipment, all so he could bring the action and these and other on-camera personalities into your home while you sat on your couch.
But the greatest recognition came from his peers. Shortly after my dad died, his colleagues came up with the idea of erecting a plaque in my Dad’s honour in the first home of the Oilers, known as everything from The Coliseum to Rexall Place. My Dad was an avid Oilers fan; how could he not be after televising so many games? This plaque went up at center ice, centered in the bowl of the arena, where four TV cameras have always sat. The plaque had a home right beside Camera 3, (the play by play camera) which was almost always my Dad’s assignment on Oilers game nights.
It was no small feat getting this plaque in place, but my Dad’s best camera mates – Tom Whitford, Bruce Becker and others – got it done.
When these recognitions occurred, there was no Twitter or Facebook, and no easy way of sharing the information with the world. I’ve often thought about how unfortunate it was in those moments that I couldn’t publicly share these stories and thank my Dad’s colleagues and friends for their efforts to remember a great, talented man. But now I can share the story, and with this post, I am.
With the Oilers moving to a new building, this plaque has left Rexall Place and has come home to our family. It will always serve as a reminder of how much respect one person can earn.
I always feel proud to known someone who had such a cool job. And free accommodations at Whistler during the downhill was super sweet too!
Tom was one of my childhood friends from 90st. He was also one of my groomsmen at our wedding . When ever we were at the Oiler games we would love to go over for a qiuck visit and after his death we would look over at the cameras and wish we were seeing him . Your dad was a true gentleman and I am so lucky to have had him as a friend .
Jennifer, he sounds like he was a neat person not only a great Dad. Glad you had him for the time you did. Explains a lot about your own personality.
Jennifer you have written a deserving tribute to your Dad. He was a kind and gentle person who always presented himself with a great deal of class – and that is a rare kind of ‘cool’.
I wish I could have met your dad Jennifer. Your words describe an amazing person & dad! I’m sure you & your family miss him dearly. His memory will live on in his family and so many others he touched throughout his life.
Thank you, Leigh and everyone for all the kind comments. It means a great deal to have you not only read the post, but leave your thoughts.
Hi Jennifer, I am your Dad’s first cousin, your Great Aunt Rene’s daugther. What wonderful tribute to your Dad! Makes me wish I had known him better. My Mom always had soft spot for Tom…..he always called and saw her when he could when he was in Vancouver. So thoughtful and caring of him!
So good to hear from you, Laurie. My Dad definitely had a soft spot for your mom as well.
What a heart warming story about your dad. You have great memories, and no doubt cherish them . I lost my dad also at a young age so can relate.
Thank you, Doug.
We miss him so much and all the good times growing up together.
Fun we had in Australia, hanging out with 90street guys, curling and all type of sports.
Mostly watching Tom’s last Grey Cup at his place and having a few Australia beers.
Tom could hardly talk and I could not hear, but we could understand and the love of two old friends.
Miss him so much
He thought so dearly of you both. Thank you for commenting and sharing your memories of my Dad, Roy & Linda.
Your Dad and I went to school together, on holidays together and worked together, he as a cameraman (the very best i might add) and me as a videotape slow-mo operator. I will always remember you’re Dad saying when we where getting ready to broadcast a game, “It’s a great life”. I was very blessed to have known you’re Dad and had him as a great friend.
It’s great to see your name pop up in the comments, Mike. Thank you for taking the time to write and share. I appreciate it greatly.
Bruce thought the world of Tom. When Tom passed away, one of our daughters gave him an angel in Tom’s memory. That angel comes out every Christmas, and Bruce is the only one who can hang it on the tree. Cherished memories.
The feeling was mutual as my Dad had the utmost respect for Bruce, as a colleague & a friend. And my family is so grateful to Bruce for his thoughtfulness in the years since my Dad died. Loy, thank you for sharing this story – it made me smile.
I had the pleasure of working with Tom as a Floor Director at CBC for almost 25 years. I was at his funeral and was very very saddened by his passing. I still have a photo of him with a Grey Cup football in his hands taped to the wall over my desk. Nobody else there remembers him but I remember the man AND the legend! He was absolutely the finest human being and the best cameraman I have ever worked with and I have been there 40 years! Strangely enough he was always giving compliments to others and used to call me #1, when in reality we all knew he was the best! When I would try to compliment him on his World-Class camera work, he would mutter under his breath ‘na, it’s just part of the job’. If anybody deserves to be in the Hall of Fame it is Tom Fisk. He was a fine example and role model for many not only at CBC but in Canadian Broadcasting.
He was an Icon and I remember him fondly….
Pierre, thank you for writing. I am truly touched by your story and comments. When I set out to write this post, I honestly did not consider that we’d be so fortunate to hear from you and others who knew my Dad. I am very grateful.
Well written tribute to your Dad, he was a very nice man and one of the nicest I ever worked with. I didn’t work with Tom as long as some others but did get to spend a number of years on the road with him on CBC curling. Working with him and Tom Whitford at the curling venue in Salt Lake was a good memory, long hours but everyone stuck it out and had a good time. It is always tough to lose someone, anyone when they are still young and want to live their lives, even harder when it is the caliber of someone like Tom Fisk. I know I will always remember how well he treated me and others. RIP Tom.
Thank you for sharing, Dave.
I worked with Tom at CBC. He was a world class cameraman and a world class guy. One of the very best. One I’m lucky to have known.
I worked with Tom for decades at CBC in Edmonton, involved in sports, news ,and any other productions being worked on in Emonton. As a new cameraman, Tom was always offering me suggestions relating to how to put out a professional product that we were all proud to work on.Tom was humble, friendly, and an excellent cameraman. As a person, he was honest and did not beat around the bush. If the truth needed to be told, he would tell it as it really was. I totally respected Tom for being such an honest person, The world lost a great person, and way to early, when Tom left us, but anyone who was lucky to know him, was rewarded by having him in our life. I am sure you and the rest of your family must be very proud of Tom Larry McDonald (mac attack)
“Tell it like it is” – is definitely something I learned from my Dad. Thank you, Larry, for that reminder and for sharing your memories of him.
I worked with and knew Tom Fisk for many years even though I had at least two things working against our friendship ever blossoming…I was from Toronto…and I was an audio guy! I think one of the most surprising things I learned about Tom was his love of “metal” rock…this quiet unassuming gentleman (and I do mean gentleman for if there were any person that exemplified that moniker it was Tom) was a heavy metal fan?? It took awhile for me to stop laughing at that one…I just couldn’t picture it! He was truly the nicest person I’ve ever met…always there with a word of encouragement or praise…he made this “eastern” boy feel right at home on any “western” gig. We all miss Tom and think of his quiet professionalism as a reminder that excellence and boastfulness are not always synonymous…he is and always will be missed by those of us lucky enough to have worked along side him.
As kids, we were always telling my Dad to turn down the music! Not the other way around. Howard, thank you for telling your stories. They brought back good memories.
I didn’t know your dad. I didn’t start working at CBC until 2006, but the years I spent crewing for CBC Sports and HNIC, your dad’s name was brought up more than a few times – and I work in Toronto! Your dad is remembered fondly!
I thank you for this tribute to the craftspeople who work tirelessly long hours, away from their families, often in different cities/provinces/countries all to put the show on the air for the folks at home. The time and dedication exhibited by so many of the technicians that I’ve had the honour to work with is inspiring. Your father may have lead by example, but there are so, so many people following his lead. With so many who have come and gone, the passion and purpose of those working behind the scenes should not be overlooked or taken for granted.
Most people don’t realize how much effort goes into bringing their favourite game into their homes so they can watch from the comfort of their couch. Thank you for sharing this thoughtful insight, Valerie, as I know my Dad felt he was just one part of a big team, and would want everyone to get the kudos and credit they deserve.
I remember Tom with fondness. He was a quiet, true professional.
I worked with your Dad for many years. Being one of the few females on the crew at that time, he was so helpful and showed me many things to help me with the job. He’s was always kind and if I had a problem he was always there to listen. I have many memories of the Olympics, Curling, Hockey and CFL games we did. I’ll always remember the fried crickets in Japan. He was such a great cameraman, a gentleman, and I miss him. You were blessed to have him as a father.
I remember him telling us about the fried crickets in Japan! Thank you for sharing how you remember my Dad, Gail. I’m touched by all of the comments from his colleagues and friends.
Jennifer, what a wonderful tribute to your Dad, I am so happy that Bruce was able to get Tom’s plaque to your family. I worked on my last show at Rexall this past May, and couldn’t help but look up to the play by play camera position for a thumbs up from your dad! We spent many years traveling and working together, he was a great cameraman, role model, but most of all, a great friend…
Thank you so much, Tom, for your comment and for all of your efforts to recognize my Dad.
your Pop was a special guy..
like Phil I treasure my Fisk Enterprises pen and golf tee..
Tom and I travelled together to the 76 Olympics in Montreal..
yes he was a wonderful human being but he was also the best goddam cameraman on the planet..
It’s 1994..BC Place
the Grey Cup game..
BC Lions vs the Baltimore Stallions …our Cup may go South to the United States!!!!
the game goes back and forth and it comes down to the last seconds in the fourth quarter with the game tied at 23-23…
Tom is on the super slomo camera in the the end zone behind the Lions..
BC has to make the field goal to win the game..
Lui Passaglia kicks..
Tom’s camera follows the ball thru’ the uprights..we win!!…then he pans right and captures a giant Canadian flag being waved by delirious fans..
Entire story of the game in one magnificent shot..
What a cameraman..
What an artist..
What a man
Bud, thank you so much for telling this story. It is one of the best examples of his vision and talent behind the camera.
Thanks Jen for sharing this beautiful post about your father. Forever they are in our hearts.
Thank you for reading and sharing your feedback, Mary. It means a great deal.
I worked with your Dad during the Salt Lake Olympics doing Sheet C on Curling.
He was just as hard a worker then as he was in the early days.
Glad I met him.
Great tribute to him.
Thank you for commenting, Andy.
I happened upon this blog via a Facebook post by a mutual friend and am so glad I did. After working in the television industry for almost six years, I was lucky enough to meet many amazing people, including the camera men and women, so I can appreciate what an important person your Dad was. But it’s actually the fact that he had ALS which grabbed my attention, as my Mom passed away from the disease in 2012. You couldn’t have said it better when you stated: “With all due respect to cancer and the other giant killers, ALS is a shitty disease.” Robbing our loved ones of all of their physical strengths while leaving their mind intact is beyond painful to watch, never mind actually being the person going through it. Thanks for sharing your story, your Dad sounds like he was a great guy. 🙂
Michelle, thank you for taking the time to read this post and share your perspective. I am sorry that you and your family have also suffered because of ALS.
I have just read your wonderful and heartfelt tribute to your dad, Tom, supported by so many loving comments from his peers and friends. These coworkers and friends are certainly excellent and respected in their profession. I can’t think of any words that could describe Tom any better so please forgive me for piggybacking on their writings. In the many years I spent behind a cameras or other areas, I had many opportunity to work near or with Tom. I have many great visual memories of him concentrating on his viewfinder image and is excellent dexterity in wielding his cameras. Tom is from the era where great friends are made. Our respect for each other made us good friends and I’ll always have his presence in my mind. Thanks for sharing more of Tom with us all.
Such a thoughtful comment, Jim. Thank you. Everyone’s comments mean so much. They are an unexpected benefit that came from writing this post.
Beautiful tribute to an amazing man. I met your Dad and worked my first CBC Sports event with him at the 1999 Pan Am Games in Winnipeg followed by many years at the Calgary Stampede, Spruce Meadows and World Cup Skiing. He was such a special member of the team – was thrilled to work with him at the 2001 World Track & Field meet in your hometown of Edmonton. He was bursting with pride. Thanks for sharing and to the guys who presented the well deserved plaque to your family.
Thank you for sharing this comment, Cheryl.