Thomas William Nichol
July 22, 1932 – January 4, 2021
Thomas William Nichol, M.D. was born in Galesburg, Illinois on July 22, 1932 and died in Boulder, Colorado on January 4, 2021.
Tom was the third eldest son of Virgil and Dorothea Vance Nichol. They had previously lost an infant son, Edward Vance Nichol, and adopted Charles Nichol after Edward’s death. His mother dedicated this new baby to the Lord, perhaps at that moment setting him on a course of service to others. Eight years later, Tom’s little brother David was born.
Tom grew up in Monmouth, Illinois, helping his father and Uncle Tom at the family chicken hatchery. He liked to joke that he was among a couple of famous people who went to Monmouth Central School, including Ronald Reagan. He excelled in sports in high school and college, especially football as a lineman and track and field. In track, he ran the hurdles, an event that left him with a broken arm. He placed fourth at state in the discus, which he felt was an accomplishment against the big guys from Chicago!
He attended Monmouth College in his hometown, continuing his football career and studying biology and chemistry. During summers while in college, Tom worked with the US Forest Service in Glacier National Park and elsewhere. It was during college that he met Barby Williamson, a fellow student who attended the same Presbyterian church. He and his father both served as elders in the church, with Tom being the youngest Presbyterian elder in the US at the time. A visiting guest speaker once spoke in church about missions in Ethiopia and the great need there. Whatever was said in that visit sparked a desire in Tom to serve there, and he decided that the best way to do so was as a doctor. So Tom began to pursue medicine.
He enrolled at the University of Illinois School of Medicine in Chicago, where Barby was a pediatric nurse. They married in March of 1958, and headed to Denver for his internship at Denver General Hospital and a family practice residency at the University of Denver. Their first two children, Cindy and Tom were born during this time. After a short stint in Albuquerque, it was time to head to missionary training in New York. It was here that their third child, Suzanne, was born in 1962.
Later in 1962, with three small children in tow, Tom and Barby headed to Ethiopia to serve as medical missionaries. During their ten years in Dembi Dollo and Mettu in rural western Ethiopia, Dr. Nichol treated all manner of diseases. People waited in lines for him with conditions ranging from malnutrition, tuberculosis, and trauma to parasitic and tropical diseases. He performed surgeries and delivered babies, including his two youngest daughters, Andrea and Meredith. He took his family along to do mass vaccinations and trained “dressers” who, upon graduation often set up their own clinics in neighboring towns. Probably most fulfilling for Dr. Nichol was performing eye surgery. People from as far away as Sudan walked in to be treated for cataracts.
It wasn’t all work. On Sundays he served as the goalie on the hospital’s soccer team. And on occasion, friends and family enjoyed picnics at the Sor River Falls, as well as longer vacations at Lake Langano in the Rift Valley.
He also assisted in the construction of the hospital in Dembi Dollo, where the ICU was later named in his honor. He was fluent in Amharic, and spoke enough Oromo to treat people’s medical needs, but that made for awkward casual conversation! Above all, Tom was able to minister to the people of Ethiopia through kindness and humor.
Political unrest and health prevented Tom and family from returning to Ethiopia after a furlough in 1971. He worked in the Longmont hospital briefly before heading to Estes Park in June of 1973 to practice medicine. At that time there was no hospital in the Estes valley, so in addition to taking care of patients in a clinic in town, he would grab his black doctor bag and make house calls. He later played a major role in establishing and running the hospital in Estes. In the years after the hospital was built, he taught a number of people who were in training to be Family Practice physicians. They would rotate a month at a time to study with Dr. Nichol. The course consisted not only of learning to do medical procedures, but also reading “Lonesome Dove” and playing a round of golf with him. Estes Park became a very popular rotation among these residents. In all, Dr. Nichol served the Estes Valley as a physician for 27 years.
He played tennis and golf for fun, and had more than his share of holes in one, some of which were actually witnessed. As a member of the Community Church of the Rockies, Tom taught adult Sunday school classes. He was told on occasion by members of these classes that he should have been a teacher. He would joke, “That’s what my patients say!”
Dr. Nichol enjoyed traveling, reading, year-round golf, bagpipes and cherry pie. He visited all fifty states and multiple countries. Although he had a very busy practice, family was of utmost importance to him so that he scheduled his on-call schedule in order to attend his kids’ events....even out of town athletic events. He loved his family and cared deeply for others. He pursued and achieved a life of service through medicine, humor, kindness and love.
Dr. Nichol is survived by Barby, his wife of 62 years, children Cindy of Sacramento, CA; Tom (Laurie) of The Dalles, OR; Suzanne (Tyler) Tennent of Beverly Hills, MI; Andrea (Hale) Kell of Boulder, CO; and Meredith (Tod) Heikes of Quincy, WA; brother David; ten grandchildren, and one great grandchild on the way. He was preceded in death by his parents, Chester Virgil Nichol and Princess Dorothea Vance Nichol, and his older brothers Edward and Charles.
Memorial donations may be made to Doctors Without Borders or Crossroads Ministry. A memorial service will be scheduled at a later time.
No public services are scheduled at this time. Receive a notification when services are updated.
Thomas William Nichol
January 17, 2021
Dr. Nichol was my Dr. He was also my friend.
That tells you everything about the man. Kindness, concern and comfort. He was just the very best and I am all the better for having had him in my life.
January 16, 2021
I worked as a nurse at the hospital in the 70’s and 80’s. Dr Nichol was everyone’s favorite. He was nice, prompt, respectful, calm, and had a sense of humor. He was considered a strong physician as he was intelligent and always came up with the right diagnosis.. He seemed to know a lot about all sorts of medicine. He was a thinker and a mentor. He had my trust and chose him as my family doctor. With the help of Dr Nichol, my two boys were born at the hospital. When I think of Dr Nichol, it makes me smile. He always added a little humor to the conversation when he was around. My condolences to the family. A loss of a great man.
January 15, 2021
Dr. Nichol was an amazing man. I had the honor of working for him in the clinic and side-by-side at the hospital. He was casual but firm. He knew what he wanted done and expected it done right. He will be missed.
January 14, 2021
Dr. Nichol was my physician when I and my children lived in Estes Park. I can think of three times Dr. Nichol came to my rescue and I have very good memories of him as a fine doctor.