Obituary - William Thomas Milligan

William Thomas Milligan

Longtime park ranger and former high school football star Tom Milligan died June 22. He was 95. His family provided the following.

Tom Milligan died with his daughters, Tami and Kelly, and a hospice nurse at his side. It was not peaceful.

Tom was born Sept. 26, 1925, in Stockton, California, to Bill and Juliet (Thatcher) Milligan. He had a younger sister, Wilma. Tom and Wilma spent their summers camping and fly-fishing on Lake Alpine in the Sierra Nevada. This instilled his lifelong love for all things outdoors and fishing.

Tom attended Stockton High School, home of the Tarzans. In his senior year of 1943 he was the star football player for the Tarzans. He and his teammates won the California State Championship. In that final game he intercepted passes, made key tackles and blocks and even scored two touchdowns. The family can recount the entire game story if anyone wants to hear.

Tom was recruited by College Pacific in Stockton for college football, but he had to put that on hold for World War II. In March 1944, Tom entered the Navy and was a radioman third class on the USS Caledonia, an ammunitions supply ship in the Pacific. He had some great experiences and some harrowing ones. He was on duty when the war was declared over and got to alert his entire crew that they had won. He again had great stories about his time, but the bottom line was that in war, he felt, there are no winners.

He returned home to Stockton to take up his college football career but soon found out he was not the same person he was when he left for the war and football was no longer for him. He heard from a friend about forestry school and ended up in Missoula at the University of Montana (although back then it was known as Montana State University-Missoula). He graduated in 1953 with a degree in forestry and the fame of having the first ski tracks down the M hill on campus.

Tom started smoke jumping out of Missoula in 1951. In 1952 he was stationed in West Yellowstone, Montana, and met a sweet, young high school graduate from Sugar City named Sharlene Thomas. She grew up to be a wonderful mother and Tom’s great companion. They married in 1956, and Tom got a job with Yellowstone National Park. Over the next 12 years, they were stationed in several wonderful subdistricts of Yellowstone and had their three children: Tim, Tami and Kelly.

In 1968 the family moved to the Jackson Lake Ranger Station in Moran, where Tom was the North District ranger. The family spent four idyllic years there, and then Tom transferred to Moose as the South District ranger. His kids were entering high school, and he wanted to be nearer to Jackson so they could participate in sports. All three kids excelled in athletics, and Tom and Sharlene were there to cheer them on.

Tom stayed in Moose until he retired in 1981. During his time as a park ranger there he was in charge of the backcountry district and the Jenny Lake mountain rescue operations. Please share your stories at sandtmilligan@gmail.com. His stories and experiences inspired us all to be the consummate outdoor people we are and the terrified mountain climber Kelly became.

After his retirement Tom really got to work on fishing, camping, backpacking, climbing, skiing and traveling. The family is pretty sure Tom was the first one in the valley to skate ski across the spring crust. They can’t even begin to thank him for all the hours of enjoyment that he has brought them.

He and Sharlene had many memorable trips, the highlight being their fishing trip down the Good News River in Alaska in 2003. After Sharlene retired in 1997 they moved to Victor, Idaho, and then relocated to Driggs, Idaho, in 2012. They continued their adventures which now included some hard-core golf, until Sharlene died in 2017.

After Sharlene’s death, Tom continued to live in his home in Driggs with daughter Kelly and her husband, David Susong. He had two beautiful granddaughters, Megan O’Brien and Katie Susong. He also spent quality time with daughter Tami and her husband, Mike DeGrosky, in Missoula, and son Tim and his wife, Kris, in Bozeman, Montana, and grandsons Russell and Tyler Kennedy and Casey Milligan.

We believe that in 2020, Tom fought so hard to not get COVID-19 and to defeat Trump that once Biden was inaugurated and he got his vaccine in April he was just tired of fighting. He started sleeping more and eating less. Thankfully he rallied one last time and watched his granddaughter Megan get married on a beautiful afternoon from his back deck. She was wearing the gown and veil he had purchased for her for the occasion. We, his family, will be forever grateful and acknowledge how lucky we were to have Tom and Sharlene for our parents. They lived long and mostly happy and we will remember and miss them daily.

Anyone who would like to honor Tom’s legacy can contribute to the Sharlene Milligan Award through the Community Foundation of Jackson Hole. Checks can be mailed to c/o GTNP, P.O. Box 170, Moose, WY 83012.

Condolences may be sent to the family at ValleyMortuaryDriggs.com.

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