Remembering Bert

“Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.”
James 1:22

He must have known he was dying.

The last time I saw the Rev. Bert Tom was at an annual gathering of Asian American progressive pastors. I’ve been meeting with this group since 2003, and it was the first place I had met other Asian American clergy who had been part of the PCUSA and blazing (literally blazing) paths for issues of justice and equity. 

In retrospect, I should have known something was up–Bert was being way too nice. He was much more gentle, and I just thought it was because he was getting older and with age he was getting more soft.

You see, the Bert I met 10 years ago, he was SCARY. I had never met someone who just called things out as they were right to your face. He never minced his words… but he would get fired up and passionate especially around issues of justice and the church.

This last time we met over a few days, and he was so chill that during a sharing time, I mentioned it to him. And at some point over that time, he began sharing with us what he would like his memorial to be like one day. He absolutely didn’t want a service or a memorial or funeral. I remember getting frustrated with him and saying to him, “The memorial isn’t about you, Bert!” hahaha…I can laugh about that comment now.

Also, that weekend, we ALMOST got him to open a Facebook account.

Bert would have been 80 years old in October (you would never guess that by looking at him!) He was planning a huge partatay. I put it into my calendar. It’s still there.

The “service” yesterday was as casual and non-formal as it could be, per Bert’s request–but it really was a service of witness and testimony to his life. It was awesome.


Bert, you scared the crap out of me when I first met you 10 years ago as a budding seminarian. You were scary. But you taught me to have courage for issues of justice and to be brave for what I believe in & to cut through b.s. I wish I would have known that was going to be the last time I saw you–I probably would have hugged you longer.

Thank you for your life and witness and guidance. I’m thankful I knew you. You will be missed.


3 thoughts on “Remembering Bert

  1. Pingback: Hug longer | Along the Graybeard Trail

  2. Hi I’m Heather! Please email me when you get a chance, I have a question about your blog! Heather.vonstjames(at) Thanks!!

  3. Nice to hear your comments/thoughts on my dad’s Service. He was very deliberate in what he wanted (no surprise) and it was perfect for the family as well.

    The following day we went to Angel Island (over 20 of us) and spread his ashes in the bay. Fitting as that is where Bert’s mother entered the United States. Photos from the COL and Angel Island are on Flickr

    Feel free to add any photos you may have.

    David Tom

    PS: Early in my life he was scary to me too. Haha!

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