September 23, 1929 – January 2, 2018
Thomas Koehler Biggs was born in Baldwin, Long Island, New York on Sept 23, 1929, to Ralph and Julia (Koehler) Biggs. Tom was the youngest of three children and the only son.
Tom excelled in school, attending Horace Greeley High School in Chappaqua, New York. He went on to attend Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he graduated with a degree in Metallurgical Engineering in 1951.
Following his military service, Tom worked in Chicago, but big city living made him look to the country for respite.
He headed to the high desert of the Hualapai Mountains of Arizona where he worked on the Lazy YU Ranch owned by western artist Roy Spafford. It was there he fell in love with ranching and never looked back.
Tom’s cowboy dream took him to Banff in 1953 where he worked for a local outfitter. That summer River of No Return starring Marilyn Monroe and Robert Mitchum was filmed there.
His employer was asked to supply horses for the film and Tom quickly found himself rubbing shoulders with the stars; he even played a minor role as a Mountie in the film. A photo taken of Marilyn Monroe during production still hangs in his office today.
While working in Banff, Tom befriended local cowboy poet Ray Bagley who told him about a ranch for sale in east-central Alberta, near Coronation.
Tom travelled to the area and was taken by the beauty of the wild prairie. He decided to purchase land and Ray gifted him his family’s cattle brand for good luck.
It was mid-February 1956 when Tom moved from the US to his ranch.
Harold Milne agreed to take him to the farmstead. They headed south via team and sleigh into the vast snow covered landscape where no roads, trees or fences were visible – just an endless ocean of white.
They travelled 12 miles and changed teams three times before arriving. The snow was deep that year, it lingered until May, and many locals didn’t think “the greenhorn” would last.
But Tom thought all Canadian winters were like that and happily took the weather in stride. He was proud of the little piece of paradise he called TK Ranch.
The following spring Tom wanted to buy cows and was directed to local pioneer Jack Hallett of Fleet. There he met Jack’s daughter Mary whom he married.
Tom and Mary raised five children. Music was always an important part of his life, he could often be heard singing his favourite songs. He instilled a love of music in his children and the entire family was actively involved in band in Coronation and Hanna for many years.
Making his home welcoming to friends and strangers alike was also important to Tom. Homecooked meals, friendly conversation and unconditional acceptance made everyone that visited the ranch feel welcome. Some stayed a few days, others for extended periods, but all were made to feel like family.
Tom earned his pilot’s license in the early 1970s; and was integral in establishing the Coronation Flying Club. He frequently flew between Coronation and Edmonton to attend meetings, delighting the freedom flying offered.
An innovative thinker, Tom often incorporated new technologies to make ranching more efficient and profitable – but never at the expense of the environment.
Protecting native prairie was extremely important to him. He sat on the Special Areas Board for many years and his conservation ethic for native grasslands was well known.
Rural healthcare was also very important to Tom. He became chairman of the Big Country Health Unit in 1969, maintaining this position for 20 years.
He was also involved with the Alberta Hospital Association and sat as their President in 1979.
Tom’s commitment to the health of Albertans was recognized when he was asked to serve as a lay councillor on the College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1979 where he sat for 15 years.
He also served as a Board Trustee for the Heritage Foundation for Medical Research, and was a member of the Provincial Health Council of Alberta and the Alberta Labour Relations Board.
He held many other positions, too many to mention, but always made it clear that he was from rural Alberta.
With his marriage to Regina Beckett in 1994, he added a second daughter, Tanja, to his family.
The symphony, live theatre, good food and travel filled Tom and Regina’s life together.
Singing became a large part of Tom’s life in his later years. Most recently he sang in a senior’s choir in Edmonton and thoroughly enjoyed performing throughout the city.
Tom is remembered locally for his honesty, fairness and most notably for being polite. These were core values Tom lived by and instilled in his children and grandchildren.
Tom is survived by his loving wife Regina and his children Ralph (Audur and grandchildren Atli, Vesteinn, Sunna, Rebekka and five great grandchildren; he was predeceased by Solveig); Dylan (Colleen and grandchildren Jocelyn, Julia, Maria, Tiffany and Hannah); Andrea (grandchildren Danielle, Greg, Morgan and Julian); John (Nicola and grandchildren Tia, Sebastian and Shyra); David (Cynthia) and Tanja (Tom and grandson Jacob).
A memorial service will be held at his beloved TK Ranch in the spring where Tom’s ashes will be spread on the land he so deeply loved.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Alberta Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals or a charity of one’s choice.