Tom Quinn (d. September 6, 2011)

It’s with great sadness that we learnt that Tom Quinn has died in Antwerp, of natural causes. Tom was travelling to the airport on his way to Mogadiscio where as security focal point he was going to spend a week evaluating the situation. Tom worked continuously for MSF since 2001 first in Sierra Leone, then in Afghanistan, India, Sudan and Kenya, before working at HQ. He also did a memorable mission in Liberia during the fall of Monrovia in 2003 where he and several colleagues stayed and worked during the worst of times.

He was to many of us a friend and to all a larger than life character, his too sudden departure will leave a very big hole.

Take care,
Christopher Stokes

We are all shaken and shocked by how it ended  far too soon last week for Thomas Gregory Quinn. I’d rather not speak of the end but the start (at least in terms of MSF). Tom Quinn and myself were the “old” folks in a 2000 Preparation for Departure (PPD) – a sort of indoctrination camp for the new ones in MSF. While some of the keen younger people actually retired to their room to study at the close of the day’s activities (I am not joking), Tom and I were joined nightly by Latifa and Sylviane in a search for pubs, fun, adventure and excitement. Given that we are the only four from that PPD that lasted at least a decade in MSF, there has to be an indicator in there for Human Resource retention.

This was the beginning of what would grow to be a close collaborative professional relationship and a profound friendship. I am proud to call Tom a true friend, and for me those words are not thrown around casually or often. We worked in many of the same dodgy spots around the world – sometimes at differing times, sometimes together. Certainly our camaraderie took on a new closeness during the time when Kees and Jorgen were kidnapped in Somalia. Tom was by my side in Nairobi while I was on the phone with the kidnappers and the stress of that time could not have been negotiated so calmly without the support of many but particularly Jerome and Tom.

I would be remiss in not mentioning the dozens of messages I have received from all over the world and especially from Somalia upon the terrible news of last week. Many remark on his bravery and that he “was a friend of Somalia” – someone who really tried and had huge compassion for the human suffering there. Tom felt strongly that our core work in MSF should be to work in such places of conflict where the needs were so high. He not only talked the talk but he walked the walk. He was the only international medical staff member at the time in Nairobi who agreed to fly into Somalia to collect Kees and Jorgen upon their release.

For those that saw him as the loud, opinionated Brit, well they are right. He was brashly larger than life. However, if that was all you saw, you missed the full picture. He earned his arrogance as his opinions were logical and often correct… albeit not presented with huge nuance! He dared to cut to the quick, to state the obvious and the unspoken while exposing hypocrisies. Generally though, he was looking for solutions, for betterment and improvement and he was immensely proud of MSF.

He also was thoughtful and reflective. He had a deep love for his family – I was in touch with him as he was delaying our handover in Somalia due to the terminal illness of his father. Few people know or would suspect how privately supportive he was toward Tiffany and myself during the long and sometimes trying process of adoption or how he showered attention on the kids over the years. Or how we would thoughtfully discuss both of our families whenever we met.

Upon him taking up residence in northern Belgium, I would shyly bellow across the headquarter office hallway “Lord Quinn of Antwerp!!” To whichTom would switch to a pouncy upper class accent and refer to me as “Peasant Michalski from the colonies!!” at full volume. Is it any wonder that Mr. Stokes decided enough is enough and dispatched one of us to the Middle East?

For a person so open and magnanimous, he played his cards close to the chest when it came to matters of the heart. It was totally obvious that Tom was completely taken with Caroline. As if confiding a state secret one evening over some beverages months after they had been seeing each other, he in hushed tones told me he was in love. To which I started killing myself laughing at the absurdity that he thought this was an actual divulgement on par with who shot JFK. Then Tom swore at me and we both laughed. Caroline, I can
with total honesty say that I never saw him happier than the last years with you. I laughed not that he
proclaimed his love but that he thought it wasn’t obvious. Your shared affection was apparent and I am very sorry for your loss. After we stopped laughing and swearing that night, we drank a toast to you, Caroline. I know another toast to you is due tonight and sadly I am not there so Jerome will have to lead it.

Tom is, was and will remain a complex enigma
– a curious box of contradictions wrapped in
a person with a marvelous heart who lived
life firmly on his own terms…
Former Rave fanatic
Trauma Nurse
bon vivant (see, I did learn some French in Belgium)
Music lover
Ex-professional photographer
Rugby fanatic
Security expert
Charmer of women
Compassionate and caring for family,
friends and patients
Generous to a fault
Partner in crime – (who will hide the next keg
of wine that I liberate at the Annual General
Meeting with his suit jacket and carry it around
for the rest of the evening as Tom did? –
Once again apologies to Mr. Stokes)
Accomplished scuba diver
Friend to many
Lover to a few
But to sum him up in two words – the only words
that can really encompass…
He was “Tom Quinn”

Dave “Peasant from the Colonies” Michalski

(... from CONTACT No.114)




By: Rebecca Cederholm