You don't choose a life, you live one.

| by Bert Armstrong

I sat down this weekend to watch The Way, an inspiring story about family, friends and the challenges we face while navigating life, relationships, and the world around us. I’d promised my friend and business partner Tom McGuire that I would watch it so that upon his return from hiking the Camino de Santiago (the Way of St. James) we could talk about his experience and I could better appreciate the journey that he was embarking on.

Tom died suddenly last Tuesday in France, soon after he had set out on the first day of what was to be a month long, 500-mile pilgrimage. Those who knew and loved Tom will find some peace in knowing that, while much too soon, Tom died in his beloved France and his final days found him on a physical and spiritual journey that had captured his attention for years. 

Tom’s life reflects the central theme of the movie: that the life you live – the experiences you seek, the relationships you build, the knowledge you acquire, the spirituality you explore, and the journey of faith you walk - is more important than the ways others try to define us, or how we too often define ourselves using material and societal measures. 

For folks who know both of us, you know that Tom and I were very different in so many ways. Yet from our very first encounter, we just clicked.  Over the years our paths intersected personally and professionally as we pursued what has been each of our life’s work in nonprofit service and philanthropy. Every encounter with Tom deepened my respect for, and fondness of him. Over time, we enjoyed a relationship that grew beyond that of foundation grant-maker and fundraiser, to friend and family. 

Perhaps it was our similar roots that set the course for our friendship and work together. We both were named after our fathers, physicians whose lives of healing and service to community had such profound impact on their children’s lives. And while Tom’s doctorate was in Philosophy and Music rather than medicine, I think his own personal creed is captured in the closing lines of the physician’s Hippocratic Oath: 

I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm. If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help.

Whatever the reason that brought us together, I will forever be blessed by my good fortune of having Tom McGuire in my life. To know Tom was to trust and admire him. He loved to learn. He loved to teach. He shared his time, talents and treasures with others without hesitation. In every encounter, he looked for ways to ease pain or burden and to lift spirits. He wanted to understand, and he wanted to help. This firm that bears his name was built on his steadfastness to these beliefs.

As Tom moved towards retirement, he loved having more time to spend with Barbara, with Martha and John and his beautiful granddaughters.  All the while, he remained our team’s biggest fan and the greatest cheerleader for Armstrong McGuire. We all cherished times when we could coax him back to work on a project or to join our team for some celebration.  Soon after retiring he told me that I should not hesitate to remove his name from the firm’s brand if I felt it no longer carried importance in our work. Typical, humble Tom McGuire.  And yet for once in our fourteen years of working together, I had to take exception to his suggestion and categorically dismiss his request.  For the exact opposite is true.  The example of his life is the essence of what we are as a firm, and what we will always strive to live up to. 

Rest well my friend. 




  1. Susan Meador's avatar
    Susan Meador
    | Permalink
    A beautiful tribute, Bert. Peace to the Armstrong McGuire family as you grieve the loss of Tom.
  2. Sharon Tripp's avatar
    Sharon Tripp
    | Permalink
    Bert, words can't express how beautiful this is and it makes me cry to read in words the essence of captured him so very well. Such a humble and REAL man he was. I love too that his name will be carried on in the business. You too Bert, are a very special man - so like Tom I think in many ways. When you partnered I thought 'perfect match'. I so respect ArmstrongMcGuire as a company - packed with true human beings whose purpose is to serve. Tom's spirit is with you and always will be.
  3. Miller Sigmon's avatar
    Miller Sigmon
    | Permalink
    What a wonderful ,loving and touching tribute to Tom, whose journey with us came to an end much too soon..But he will continue to serve as a model for us of a life well lived...
  4. Christine Dennis's avatar
    Christine Dennis
    | Permalink
    Bert, I am so sad for you and your team to have lost a friend and loved one. Your writing so beautifully expresses his character, relationships, and contributions to our community. I never met Tom, yet I'm sure the ripple effect of his life's work will continue to touch all of us. Peace to you.
  5. Tonita Few's avatar
    Tonita Few
    | Permalink
    Bert,<br /> <br /> The unexpected loss of Tom was met with shock and sadness by myself and so many others. My respect for him was rooted in his sincerity and authenticity of character, as well as his commitment to search for the good in others. I will always be grateful to Armstrong &amp; McGuire for recognizing that I had so much to offer to the field of fundraising and for advocating on my behalf! <br /> <br /> Prayers of Peace,<br /> Tonita Few
  6. Kristine Dahlberg's avatar
    Kristine Dahlberg
    | Permalink
    Dear Bert, I was sorry to hear or Tom's death. I am still here in Pinehurst, while I raised $10mm for Chapel of the Cross in Chapel Hill, served as Exec Director of the Literacy Council, and am now on the Board of Visitors for Duke Divinity School, helping them transition to a change in leadership. Duke Div now has faculty from Medicine and I am working from my background at Johns Hopkins Medical to help flesh out "community care and partnerships" initiated from a medical setting. <br /> The Village Chapel in Pinehurst is again considering and raising challenge money for a school building. I have often relied on the survey you developed to assess the goals of that institution. You are so very good at these instruments and their meaning! <br /> I think it is time I expanded my Linked In with resume and pix. My husband has died, and the house is up for sale. I may move closer to Durham-Raleigh area. Life changes and you keep coming up on my LinkedIn page. <br /> I have watched The Way and have friends who walked the Camino. I have always regarded it as a blessed venture. How I wish I could see that church and the large incense container swinging throughout the church!<br /> Bert, I truly hope this reaches you, as I could not find a way to your direct email. Best wishes always and hope we have a chance to talk someday.<br /> Kris Dahlberg

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