Dr. Tom Breese left us on Valentine’s Day, 2018, from complications of Parkinson’s disease.
Tom was born January 13, 1943 in Peoria, Illinois, to a hardworking Catholic family. His mother Helen had high hopes of Tom leading a devoted life as a priest, but Tom’s interests had a different focus. Those that Tom touched in his 75 years with us have been infinitely blessed and rewarded by his decision to pursue a career in medicine.
In his teenage years, Tom’s summers were spent helping his Uncle Jack work on his farm, learning the value of hard work and the perils of cutting corners. He attended Spaulding Catholic High School in Peoria and excelled in the classroom. Having skipped a grade, Tom was younger and smaller than most of his classmates, but that didn’t stop him from competing against them in boxing and track. His academic excellence continued at St. Ambrose College in Davenport, Iowa and at Loyola University Stritch School of Medicine in Chicago.
Tom completed his internship and residency at Kaiser Permanente in Oakland and a pediatric pulmonary fellowship at UCSF. From 1974 until his retirement in 2007 Tom was a proud and exemplary Kaiser pediatrician, devoted to his Cystic Fibrosis patients. He was a fixture in the Oakland community, and widely recognized as a capable and compassionate physician. For many of those years he served as the Chief of Pediatrics.
In 1970-71 Tom was an Army doctor in Vietnam, where he witnessed the horrors of war. That experience had a profound impact on him, although he rarely spoke of it. He left the military with the rank of Major and was awarded the Bronze Star.
Tom had many passions, including skiing, bocce ball, and golf. He was a lifelong runner, and competed in races such as the infamous Dipsea in Marin County, and the inaugural Oakland marathon.
First and foremost, however, was his love for music and motorcycles. He had an impressive collection of vintage motorcycles that he restored and showed at many local events. The pride of his collection was his 1969 Norton Commando 750, which he bought new in San Francisco during his residency with Kaiser. Over 40 years, he rode the Norton all over the country, and remained loyal to it despite its questionable reliability.
Music was also huge part of Tom’s daily life. He played the banjo, dobro, piano, guitar and later in life took on the fiddle. He enjoyed traveling to bluegrass festivals and jamming with other musicians.
Tom was a rare combination of traits. He excelled at everything he put his mind to and yet he remained humble and modest. Tom would have agreed that he had a few vices, although he might have argued that they weren’t vices, merely “expressions of his personality.” Tom could be stubborn, especially when he knew he was right. He was fond of an occasional martini or a cold beer, always referring to them as medicinal in nature.
Tom’s greatest legacy is the way he treated others. He always saw the best in people and felt that he got that back in kind. When all is said and done, Tom loved people and honored their dignity. One of Tom’s colleagues wrote of his passing:
“As a young resident, Dr. Breese was the first leader I had met in our field who combined clinical expertise with graceful mentorship, compassion for all, vision and talent.
For me, he is a titan on my professional Mount Rushmore as both a leader and a learner. His role modeling made me want to get better at pediatrics and develop the kinds of relationships he did.
Also, his bowties, jokes over beer at Cato’s, motorcycle and bluegrass stories and gentle nature were memorable. I admired him immensely, as he inspired many, and will miss him tremendously.”
Tom is survived by his beloved wife Dale, brother David, uncle Jack, aunt Rita, son Jeb, daughter Heather and grandchildren Marshall, Kaetlyn and Jason and many cousins and friends. Donations can be made to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the Parkinson’s Foundation or your favorite charity.
While the final months of Tom’s battle with Parkinsons were difficult, they were made bearable by the close friendships he developed with the staff and patients at Lakeside Park retirement community. The love, patience, and commitment shown by Carla, Veronica, Andy, Sharon, and all of the other people at Lakeside Park will be forever appreciated by the Breese family.