Thomas Reginald Joseph Irvine

Ostracized as a child because of his weight, he fought hard to bring it under control, exercising no matter how bad the weather

Thomas Reginald Joseph Irvine

Illustration by Ian Phillips

Thomas Reginald Joseph Irvine was born on Sept. 29, 1971, to Reg and Judy Irvine in the German city of Lahr. “I was in the infantry, a ground-pounder,” says Reg, who served in the Canadian Forces for almost four decades. His wife, Judy, was a homemaker, caring for Thomas and his brother Jeffrey, who was older by four years. “I told her when I married her, ‘You will never work. You will be a mother to my boys,’ ” Reg says. “She raised them with love.” While Reg was stationed in Germany, he and Judy would travel when they could to see more of Europe. “We went to Venice, to Amsterdam, to Italy, and to Paris to see the Eiffel Tower,” Reg says. “It was an education.” Thomas and Jeffrey were too young to remember these trips when they got older, but the family took photos “so we could show them, years later,” Reg says. “They couldn’t believe they’d been there.”

In 1976, Reg was stationed to Petawawa, Ont., and moved back to Canada with his family, “and that’s where the problems began.” At just five years old, Thomas’s weight was ballooning out of control. He was teased mercilessly everywhere he went: “in school, in restaurants, at the Ottawa Exhibition, at the War Museum,” Reg says. “I was never [home] that much. My wife spent hours talking to his teachers, and took him out of school. It was the worst a child could go through. You don’t know what it’s like, when somebody’s humiliated so bad—he’d come home crying, upset with the whole world. It was a scar on his mind, to be treated like that.”

In 1982, Reg was posted to the military base in Gagetown, N.B., and the family moved again. Even in their new home, Thomas was cruelly mocked and ostracized for his size. His weight had reached nearly 400 lb. “One day, when he was 11 or 12, I sat down with him, man to man,” Reg recalls. “I said, ‘We’re going to beat it.’ I said, ‘I’m in the army, and my job is physical training.’ So I took him down to the bottom of the hill. It’s a [steep] incline, and six miles from home. And I said, ‘I’ll see you at home, you know where it is.’ And when he arrived, two or three hours later, he was soaking wet from top to bottom. Of course, we were worried. And I said, ‘He ain’t gonna quit.’ And he never quit, he never did.”

Thomas started diligently exercising. He got into the habit of running up to 25 km every single day, “night, rain or snow,” Reg says proudly, a daily ritual he never, ever missed. He meticulously watched what he ate. And when he was 16 years old, he dropped 175 lb. “They couldn’t recognize him,” Reg says. “At the end of the school year, the teacher was going to give him a trophy. And he said to the teacher politely, ‘I don’t take trophies.’ ” Despite the weight loss, though, Thomas remained a solitary person. “He had very few friends,” Reg says, and never married or had kids. He stuck close to his parents and his brother, and lived with Reg and Judy his entire life. He devoted himself to hobbies: Thomas loved Jim Morrison and the music of the Doors. He collected videos, especially military movies, that eventually numbered in the thousands. His favourite food was his mother’s homemade meatballs.

After high school, Thomas got a job as a cleaner for the Department of National Defence. In late 1994, heading into work, he fell and broke his hip. The doctor told him he wouldn’t be able to run again, “so he started walking,” Reg says. He’d go for walks that often lasted over three hours. He was always careful to dress for the weather, and walked facing traffic so he’d stay visible. “I’d say, ‘It’s pouring rain, it’s freezing out,’ but he wanted to go,” Reg says. “He’d say, ‘No, I’m doing it on my own, dad.’ ”

In 1998, Reg retired and the family moved to Smiths Falls, Ont., his hometown. Thomas got a job working security, “but he was laid off four years ago, when the economy went down,” Reg says. Thomas kept up with his routine. He made friends on Facebook, connecting with other Jim Morrison fans, and spent time with his brother and parents. He carried on with his daily walks. Thomas didn’t get to know many people in Smiths Falls, but they knew him, even if they never learned his name. “He’d go for a walk and people would wave to him, and he’d wave back, and give them the thumbs up.”

On the evening of Jan. 15, Thomas was out for a walk, wearing fluorescent clothing and walking toward oncoming traffic to stay visible. At 8 p.m. he was struck by a drunk driver, and later died in hospital. Thomas was 40 years old.

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Thomas Reginald Joseph Irvine

  1. An addition to the story is that it was a hit and run driver. the driver was arrested and charged and is currently out on bail walking the streets of Smiths Fall’s in full view of Thomas’s grieving family.

  2. Thomas and I went to high scool together.  We weren’t exactly friends back then but more like aquaintances.  We were both pretty much loners.  It wasn’t until a few years ago he added me as a friend on facebook.  We began talking more and more and became very good friends.  We talked almost everyday until that dreadful night.  The last time I talked to Tom was the same Sunday he was killed, I will never forget that day.  When I heard what had happened, my jaw hit the floor.  I couldn’t believe this happened to him. He was such a kind person with a heart of gold.  He is now in Heaven, running marathons and watching over us.  Tom, I miss our chats, I miss our friendship…I miss you!  Till we meet again, my friend.  RIP!!

    • oops, high school…. sorry for the spelling mistake…

      •  hi dawn
        yes, it is a very sad story. and I’m sorry you losta good friend. Im Thomas’s uncle (his mom’s younger brother). i last talked to Thomas at Christmas….a good chat about movies and Seinfeld episodes. the accused is back in court tomorrow.  there will never be justice here as thomas will never come back, but Judy and Reg will definitely be strong and see this through to the end. It’s a powerful and tragic case the crown have built.  brian  (turn2stone)

  3. I feel for the family for their loss. I just wish people would see it
    for how it is Thomas did not wear reflective clothing walked out of town
    where there were no  street lights. As well as walked down a 2 mile
    stretch of road that connects brockville highway to  jasper
    highway.There is no shoulder on either side of the road.Its  just common
    sense he was going to get  hit sooner or later apparently  sooner.I had
    said 2 weeks prior someone was going to hit him as i went by him on the
    brockville highway at 8.20 pm and again he had  no reflective wear on.
    This was a senseless tragedy that did not need to happen considering
    smiths falls just built a 12 million dollar arena with a  walking track.
    To all parents please keep your kids safe so they just might make it home.

    • relfective clothing or not !!!!! what was the cause  ? so did toss that BS IN there !!!!!

      •  yes Thomas did have reflective clothing. Yes he was walking facing traffic. Yes he was slaughtered by a drunk driver who crossed the lanes and struck him from BEHIND. The drunk then fled the scene. I think it’s pretty easy to figure out who was in the wrong here.

    • ‘Jamesdean’ I have NO idea who you are OR who you think you are!!!  How do you have the NERVE to speak so cruely?!?!?   I am a firm believer that if you can’t say anything nice then don’t say anything at all!  People like you who speak so LOW of an idividual start vicious rumours in town.  YOU NEED TO HAVE RESPECT!!!  You say you feel for the Irvine family then go on to speak so vicious….good grief you really need to give yourself a huge reality check!!  Drunk drivers need to be caught and pay the price.  It is ILLEGAL to drive under the influence!  How do you feel about that Jamesdean??  Thomas was literally run down and slaughtered by a DRUNK DRIVER!!!  Now the Irvine family is grieving the loss of their son whom they cherished with their endless love and compassion.  Thomas stuggled enough during his short life and was able to make changes that reflected in his achievments.  Now I must ask you HOW WOULD YOU FEEL IF YOUR CHILD WAS STRUCK FROM BEHIND BY A DRUNK DRIVER THEN LEFT THE SCENE AND LEFT YOUR CHILD SLAUGHTERED ON THE GROUND LEFT TO DIE?????

      • thats right !!!!!! SHEILA  100%  agree!!

      •  jamesdean is a buddy of the accused…i wouldn’t expect much from that corner.

        • James dean has been charge with a DUI him self

          • I think james dean is Billy Sauders

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