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Remembering Tom Cooley

Lauren Westmoreland
[email protected]

After the news of the passing of City of Portola Mayor Tom Cooley, many shared warm thoughts and remembrances of a man described unilaterally as an intelligent, kind, humble elected official and friend.

In the years that Cooley lived in Portola with his wife and best friend Linda, he made a large impact on the community in a myriad of ways, always striving to serve others to the fullest, with an insatiable appetite for learning.

Cooley’s work ranged from serving on the advisory board at White Sulphur Springs to annual work as a member of the Graeagle Lions Club, and cleaning up the trail to Frazier Falls, in addition to his many other responsibilities as an elected member of the Portola City Council.

Cooley served every individual in the community with a full heart and attention to detail — a man who would see a need and quietly fill it, without fanfare.

Many may recall seeing Cooley clearing truckloads of brush around the city, with Portola City Councilmember Stan Peiler noting that Tom Cooley was “always out there behind the scenes cutting brush, getting hands on.” “He loved that chainsaw!” Peiler said with emotion. “Anytime I got off work, I would see Tom out around the city deep in shrubs and his wife Linda dragging brush to the truck. I truly learned to gain the utmost respect for Tom and Linda.”

Cooley weed whips the whole length of Hwy. 70 through the City of Portola down the edge and kept going as he “practices what he preaches” in summer 2019. The work that summer resulted in the removal of dozens of trees, brush, pine needles and cones, along with plenty of trash. Photo by Linda Cooley

“I met Tom and Linda nearly 20 years ago, and I’ve been absolutely blessed to know this man. He has always had the best interests of the city and its residents at heart, and he has never given up for residents,” Peiler said. “I would like to continue his work that he has left — I truly love that man, and the city of Portola and Plumas County have lost a great man.”

Peiler emphasized, as did all who spoke in remembrance of Cooley, that Tom was a deeply dedicated person. “I want the public to know of Tom Cooley’s dedication to the community in his personal time,” Peiler added.

Cooley works with the Graeagle Lions Club to do an annual cleanup at Frazier Falls in 2019. Photo by Linda Cooley

“Tom is the only public servant I have met that is hugely intelligent with the ability to problem solve better than anyone I know, in addition to having a heart that was even bigger,” said Portola Interim City Manager Jon Kennedy. “He has always taken the time to thoroughly understand any issue, and there will never be another Tom Cooley. The city has lost an instrumental person, but it is a huge loss to the county and state as well. Tom’s expertise benefitted so many. To the last second he was making sure that things were happening for the proposed new fire district.”

In his time serving on the City of Portola council beginning in 2016, Cooley sat on various committees on local and state levels of government, such as CalLAFCo, Plumas LAFCo, the Emergency Services Policy Committee for the City of Portola, and many more.

Tom Cooley speaks with Congressman Doug LaMalfa during an event held at Western Pacific Railroad Museum in Portola on August 9, 2019. Photo by Lauren Westmoreland

It quickly became clear in speaking with various members of the community that above all else, Cooley was deeply concerned with the safety of his city and the residents in it. This culminated in Cooley initiating a massive ongoing effort to bring together all of the various fire and emergency services departments in Eastern Plumas County and consolidate them in order to ensure better service for all residents.

“Perhaps Tom’s greatest achievement for Eastern Plumas County was his instrumental spearheading of fire and emergency medical services reorganization, carving a path to the future and strengthening our local Fire and EMS,” said now Mayor Bill Powers. “He was Mayor of Portola when he passed away, earning the respect and admiration of everyone who knew him.” Powers also made remarks on the work that Cooley had done over the years, such as creating defensible space in the community. “You’ve probably seen him clearing brush from West End Park, running chainsaw to reduce fuels near the River Walk and highway, and clearing unwanted trees near the swimming pool,” Powers noted.  Powers also pointed out the fact that Cooley always took the time to hear the unique perspective of each person and gave them unfailing respect along the way.

Portola Councilmember Pat Morton echoed many of the same sentiments, emotionally adding that Cooley was not only an excellent public servant but also a wonderful friend, and that he would be sorely missed. “He was a strong leader and a very kind man,” Morton said. “He did anything- manual labor for the city, working on the proposed new fire district, even putting in a great deal of work at White Sulphur Springs and the disc golf course.”

City of Portola City Finance Officer Susan Scarlett also shared her memories of Cooley, noting that she had first met Tom when he was on a citizens’ committee for the matter of a fire tax in Portola in 2016. “He was amazing to work with,” Scarlett said. “He was always professional and engaged- he was an ideal person to work with. Anything that was beneficial to the community, he gave his attention to. I was always impressed that Tom always wanted to learn something new, whether it was Excel or a LAFCo class- he is truly inspirational.”

In speaking with Cooley’s wife, Linda, it was emphasized yet again that Cooley’s biggest goal was to complete what he had begun with the fire redistricting effort, even after his illness began to impact him more meaningfully. “Tom believed in kindness, helping others, and doing good,” Linda Cooley said. “He believed the best of people and did everything in his power to serve the community in any way he could, up to the last.”

3 thoughts on “Remembering Tom Cooley

  • Tom has helped me a lot. Unbelievable man he gave his all at anything you asked of him. I to will miss Tom

  • Tom was a great asset for Portola. He helped us become more fire safe and fire wise. I miss him already, we need help with tree removal and brush disposal. Bless Us All especially Linda.

  • Not many know this but Tom was instrumental in the design and publishing of the High Sierra Animal Rescue calendar for many years. He and his wife Linda volunteered numerous hours every year to ensure that the calendar was expertly published and ready for distribution by the 4th of July.

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