Passages | Tom Holmes of Friday Harbor, former college and pro football lineman

Tom Holmes

Tom Holmes of Friday Harbor died Friday in Islands Convalescent Center. The former college and pro football lineman succumbed after a two-year struggle with Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

His age could not be immediately confirmed; he was 35 when he was the subject of a front page story in the Sept. 12, 2007 Journal. His survivors on the island include his mother, Annette, of Friday Harbor; his brother, Garrett, of Friday Harbor; and Garrett’s wife and children.

More information will follow. Evans Funeral Chapel is handling the arrangements.

Holmes’ struggle with Lou Gehrig’s Disease inspired friends and family members to educate people about the disease and raise money for a cure. The Sept. 12, 2007 story is reprinted below:

By Richard Walker
In the early 1990s, Tom Holmes was accustomed to challenges.

At 6 feet 1 inch and 275 pounds, the strapping lineman for the Oregon State Beavers was unshaken by his team’s losing seasons and helped them win bragging rights over the archrival Oregon Ducks 14-3 in 1991 and 15-12 in 1993 — each time on the Ducks’ home field.

After graduation, he went on to play for Portland and then Oklahoma in the Arena Football League. In his rookie year, he had five receptions and one touchdown and rushed for 38 yards. In his three-year career, he had 18 tackles and three sacks. He retired from football to work for Internet-based businesses.

Today, in his Friday Harbor home, Holmes is fighting odds he’s not expected to beat. Holmes has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. ALS is a progressive disease that causes degeneration of the motor neurons between the brain, the spinal cord and the muscles. When the motor neurons die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost.

Holmes is 35 years old. While he is not expected to survive — he is paralyzed only 14 months after diagnosis — his family and friends hope to use his story to raise awareness of ALS, as well as thousands of dollars for research for a cure.

Family and friends have formed Team Tom for the Walk to D’Feet ALS, Sept. 23 in Medford, Ore.

“We have watched him shrivel from the man with almost superhuman strength to someone who can no longer walk or stand on his own,” his sister, Sue, wrote on the Team Tom Web site,

“Since Tom’s diagnosis with ALS in June of last year, so many people have asked me if there was anything they could do to help. Although I was grateful to have so many caring and thoughtful people in my life, I was also frustrated by how little there was for us to do. Now, I’m happy to offer you a chance to help …

“There is no treatment and no cure for ALS today but it doesn’t have to stay that way. I am asking for your help to attack this disease the way we watched Tom attack offensive lineman on so many Saturday afternoons. Please, help me with this fight by joining me in the walk and/or by giving what you can.”

Visitors to the Team Tom Web site can donate money to the Walk to D’Feet ALS and they can signup to participate. They can also learn about other walks in the region ( is the site of the ALS Association Oregon & S.W. Washington chapter. is the site of the ALS Association Evergreen chapter; walks are scheduled in this region Sept. 22 through Oct. 6).

Annette Holmes, Tom’s mother, said her son first noticed something was wrong when his speech slurred and he felt numbness in his right leg and in a finger and thumb on his right hand. He underwent a battery of CAT scans and tests.

He was diagnosed with ALS June 7, 2006, the day The Journal published a story about Adam Argento’s bicycle ride across the United States to raise awareness of ALS and raise funds for research.

Argento is the son of Susan Millington of Friday Harbor. His father, Joe Argento of Kirkland, was diagnosed in 1998 with ALS.

“Once a talented athlete, ballroom dancer and computer engineer, Joe now struggles to blink — his only remaining form of communication as the disease robs him of all voluntary motor control,” The Journal reported.

Inspired by his father’s will to survive, Argento saw his own physical abilities as a means to help others diagnosed with ALS.

“I cannot tell you how heartbreaking it has been for friends and family to witness this disease steal away the man we all know and love,” Argento said at the time. “I wanted to give the disease as hard a time as its given so many of its victims by raising money for research and treatment of ALS will help eventually. In comparison to loving an ALS survivor, my ride this summer was easy.”

Now, Tom Holmes’ family is carrying on the effort to educate people about ALS and raise money for a cure. They’ve adopted as their motto this quote by Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Annette Holmes, co-owner of Friday Harbor Freight, has informational material about ALS available at her office. Call her at 378-2012. Or sign up to participate in the Walk to D’Feet ALS as a donor, walker or virtual walker.

“Last year, the Oregon & S.W. Washington Walk(s) raised over $200,000, proving to be our most successful Walk season to date,” according to the Team Tom Web site. “This year, we hope to surpass this amount by raising $250,000 for continued programs and services on a local and national level …

“With your help, we will be able to make a difference in the lives of ALL people affected by ALS.”

ALS Facts
— Every 90 minutes, a person in this country is diagnosed with ALS.
— Every 90 minutes, another person will lose their battle against this disease.
— ALS occurs throughout the world with no racial, ethnic or socioeconomic boundaries.