A passion for life
“What we do for ourselves, dies with us. What we do for others and the world, is and remains, immortal.”
This quote by Albert Pine sums up the man Tom Hays was during his time on earth, Washougal High School Principal Aaron Hansen said.
Hays, 59, passed away on Saturday, Sept. 14. The Jemtegaard Middle School history teacher was a longtime coach and community volunteer, along with a “tireless” advocate for using technology in education.
Hays also served as a building representative for the Washougal Association of Educators, and was a longtime member of the Washougal Lions Club.
“You are here today because Tom was in your life in some way,” Hansen said during a memorial service at Washburn Performing Arts Center Thursday. “Maybe he taught you, maybe you grew up with him or played football in college with him. Whatever he was to you, thank you for being here.”
Hays grew up in Olympia. At age 12, he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and his parents were told he might not live more than a year.
Instead, he thrived, going on to play football at Linfield College and continuing to play sports well into adulthood, despite having a kidney and pancreas transplant in 1993. When he wasn’t playing or coaching sports, he could usually be found in the classroom or relaxing with his family.
“He was profoundly dedicated to his work, in all areas,” said Les Brown, Washougal School District technology director. “Even as sick as he was this fall, he really wanted to be in the classroom getting ready to meet the new sixth-grade students.”
Robin Steigmann, a former student, was in his first history class at Jemtegaard in 1983 with her future husband, William “Butch“ Steigmann. She recalled that Hays loved teaching and school pep assemblies.
“He used to dress up as the church lady from Saturday Night Live,” she said.
He also taught two of their children years later.
“I loved the fact that he was teaching a second generation of Washougal students,” Steigmann said. “I’ll never forget showing up to the Jemtegaard open house when our oldest daughter was starting seventh grade. Mr. Hays happened to be manning the table for her schedule pickup and he was so excited to see us as former students and to know that he would have our children in his class.”
In addition to teaching history and coaching, Hays also had a passion for alternative education.
He founded Excelsior High School and created a program there to help struggling students graduate. He served as the school’s administrator for 16 years.
Hansen met Hays at an employment fair in Portland several years ago. His excitement convinced Hansen to apply for a job in the district, where he has been ever since.
“Tom was ‘Mr. Washougal,’” Hansen said. “He was so excited about the school district, the city, the Gorge. I fell in love with Washougal because of him.”
Hansen worked with Hays at Excelsior for several years.
“He was a mentor to me,” Hansen said. “Sometimes he was like my brother, sometimes like my dad. We coached football together and he was all in, whether it was coaching, teaching or being a father. Family was extremely important to Tom.”
Hansen added that Hays was extremely proud of his children, Chelsea and Matt, and his wife, Peggy. He could often be found cheering on his Seattle Seahawks, enjoying Sunday dinner or going to the movies with his family.
“You know how much he loved all of you,” Hansen said.
Coaching was also a passion.
“Tom believed that being a coach also meant you were a team member,” Brown said. “During his many years of coaching football and track, it wasn’t about winning. It was about wanting kids to see their own potential and do their best.”
Anna Linde was a student of Hays when he taught history at Washougal High School. He was also her track coach.
“He was so excited about coaching,” she said. “Really, it was his passion. He coached me in sprints and shot put. I qualified for state and he guided me through the craziness that is the state track meet.”
He and wife Peggy would have team dinners at their home before state meets as well.
“It was a way to create a real team spirit,” Linde recalled. “It was so much fun.”
Linde began teaching with Hays when she returned to Washougal after college. The two worked together on the social studies committee at Jemtegaard. He also used his aptitude for technology to assist others, she added.
“He helped us all when he was the technology coach, in a time when schools were embracing computers, software, grading programs and the Internet,” Linde said.
Hays served as the district’s first technology director, creating a plan for a school system that put technology into the hands of teachers and students.
Fellow history teacher Susie Donnelly recalled that Hays encouraged her to use technology to help her seventh-grade students, even going so far as to loan her his personal computer equipment.
“Everyone at Jemtegaard can attest to his dedication,” she said. “He was a kind, thoughtful, sincere sort of fellow,” she said.
Hays considered all of his students, “his kids,” she added, and no matter how ill he was, he wanted to be there for them.
“At the end of school last year, it was a day that his balance wasn’t ideal, and he fell in the hallway,” Donnelly said. “As soon as he was seated in a wheelchair, with a bloody gash on his head, he practically demanded to be taken to the library, where one of his student’s IEP meetings was taking place. That’s the kind of person he was.”
She added that Hays always looked for the good in people.
“He enjoyed people for who they were, not what they could be,” Donnelly said. “On Tuesday, after we shared Tom’s passing with the students, a seventh-grade girl showed me last year’s yearbook and pointed to a very sweet and personal note from Mr. Hays. She said simply, ‘He cared. I will miss him.’ She speaks for us all.”