The first person in Montana to die of a coronavirus-related illness was a retired high school biology teacher from Washington state who had retired about a decade ago in a lakeside home near the Cabinet Mountains.
Jim Tomlin was 77 when he died Thursday in a hospital in Kalispell, minutes after last rites were given to him over the phone. His son, G. Scott Tomlin, told The Associated Press on Friday that his father would have wanted people to take to heart the warnings to stay home to avoid the spread of the coronavirus.
“If it can happen in a low-density county, it can happen anywhere,” G. Scott Tomlin said. “It may not be your life or your neighbor’s life, but it will be someone’s life.”
Jim Tomlin and his wife, Marcia Hunter Tomlin, lived on Bull Lake in Lincoln County in the northwestern corner of Montana, t he Western News first reported and G. Scott Tomlin confirmed. They’d lived there about 10 years after retiring as teachers in Walla Walla.
“He was a fisher and a golfer,” his son said. “He loved the Montana life, he built that circle of friends and family — and friends that became family. He loved nothing better than the summertime when people would come to visit.”
Jim Tomlin and his wife had returned from a road trip to California when he caught a fever and started coughing and having headaches on Monday, G. Scott Tomlin said.
The son described his father’s decline over the next four days in a Facebook post. Jim Tomlin was isolated and increasingly disoriented. He had to be resuscitated when he was put on a ventilator, and then was placed in a medically induced coma. The decision was made Thursday afternoon to take him off the ventilator and his wife said goodbye to him over the phone.
It will probably never be known where Jim Tomlin contracted the virus, G. Scott Tomlin said. Marcia Hunter Tomlin is in self-quarantine and is not showing any symptoms, he said.
G. Scott Tomlin, his stepmothers and his two sisters will have to wait to grieve together until the outbreak has passed.
“We will probably have a celebration when we can all get together again,” he said. “Probably not before the summer.”
Gov. Steve Bullock did not name Tomlin when he announced the state’s first coronavirus-related death on Thursday.
“Especially during these times, Montana truly is one big small town – this news hits us hard, but we’re in this together,” Bullock said in a statement. “My family and I send our love and support to the family, friends, and community of our fellow Montanan.”
Montana has more than 100 cases of the virus, including seven people who have been hospitalized.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover.
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