Thomas P. Gill is a retired Air Force officer and the author of “Randy’s Way.” Gill’s book is a biography about Randy Hebert, a retired Marine Corps major, who has been living with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) for the past two decades as a result of toxic exposure during the Gulf War.
For Gill giving back to his community comes naturally. He serves on the board for the Fire Leadership Foundation — a national scholarship program for underprivileged students. He also volunteers with the Onward to Opportunity Program and serves as a zone commander for the Emerald Isle Neighborhood Watch. The latter organization is what led Gill to meet the Hebert family and ultimately to authoring his “Randy’s Way.”
Gill met Randy and Kim Herbert while volunteering in Emerald Isle and from the moment he met them he was touched by their incredible journey of hope and dedication.
“I met Randy and within five minutes I fell in love,” said Gill as he spoke of Randy’s love of life and determination. “It’s been a bromance for the last 14 months as Kim would say.”
According to Gill, Kim asked him to write Randy’s story and while it was a vast undertaking, he felt honored to accept. For a year, the author focused on research; traveling to South Carolina and Virginia to meet with Randy’s family and old friends. Writing the book about Randy’s journey with ALS was a way for him to give back to a veteran family who exudes perseverance, and faith said Gill.
“Randy has not breathed, eaten or moved on his own for nearly 25 years and his wife of then only three years has stood by him the entire way,” said Gill. “He has zero control over his body other than moving his eyes right and left. (Hebert) gave everything but his last breath for the United States in Iraq and Kuwait,” said Gill as we talked about his book. “It’s a book about a family that came together in one of the most challenging situations they could ever face and they have survived and in some ways, they have even thrived through the situation.”
Randy’s story is one of inspiration and hope about a veteran who was given three years to live and despite all the challenges, he and his family never abandoned hope. According to Gill, Randy loves life and even though he is confined to a wheelchair, he enjoys going to the beach and basking in the sun. In the book, Gill shares many heartwarming stories of the Herbert, one of my favorites is of Randy raffling his Corvette and donating the proceeds to build the first handicap accessible ramp on Emerald Isle.
According to Gill, Randy’s willingness and ability to communicate despite his disease is an example of the ‘adapt and overcome’ spirit instilled in every Marine. Randy uses a special alphabet system to communicate with people, the process involves a nurse reciting the alphabet for each letter of the word he is trying to convey and he uses eye movements to signal each letter.
“ABCing is what we call it,” said Gill. “Randy and his dad developed that system after he could no longer talk because he had a tracheotomy,” said Gill. “Randy focuses his eyes straight ahead. When Randy hears the correct letter of the word he wants to say, he turns his eye in the direction of the person reciting the alphabet. The person will clarify the letter ensuring they have it correctly and repeat the process for the next letter.”
Gill is proud to share his book as it highlights a fellow veteran whose faith, strength and fighting spirit are an inspiration to others who may be experiencing life challenges.
“I am a military brat, my dad was a command sergeant major. I joined the Air Force after college for a job. It was a way for me to guarantee a paycheck and to see the world,” said Gill. “I was lucky that I happened to pass that Air Force recruiting station by East Carolina University and the rest of it is history. I got a master’s degree in business that I would’ve never gotten. I got to travel throughout the United States and Europe. I had the opportunity to learn valuable leadership and experiences. I was blessed to have a military career.”
The Emerald Isle author grew up in a tight-knit family that instilled strong values.
“I have six siblings. All raised by my mom and dad, who were married well over 60 years. My dad instilled the values of good work ethic, integrity and respect,” said Gill. “We didn’t have much if you can imagine with seven kids, but we didn’t know we didn’t have much. We were rich in family and we always had plenty to eat. I think what my parents instilled in me is that I care for people and I want to take care of people.”
Story by Ena Sellers.