Walking On -- Leon Clinton "Chips" Tom
Former Tribal Council member and Tribal Elder Leon Clinton “Chips” Tom, who many considered to be the face of the Grand Ronde Tribe because of his prominent role in a mid-2000s Spirit Mountain Community Fund ad campaign, walked on at the age of 89 on Saturday, Dec. 16.
Tom was born on July 15, 1928, to Michael Clinton Tom and Cora (Voutrin) Tom in Grand Ronde. According to a Smoke Signals profile published in February 2007, he attended Grand Ronde Elementary and Willamina High schools, as well as Chemawa Indian School.
He lettered in three sports – baseball, basketball and football.
“Chips is arguably the finest athlete that ever attended Willamina High,” said Rod Pedersen, who played with Tom at Willamina High from 1946-48.
In an April 2009 Smoke Signals story, Tom recalled playing baseball for the Grand Ronde Tribal team. He was in his teens, 15 or 16, and most of his teammates were in their mid-to-late 20s.
“Everything to me was kind of serious,” he said, “because I was playing with the big guys.”
Tom’s athleticism received interest from Oregon State University, the University of Washington and several California colleges, as well as from the National Football League’s New York Giants, but he instead focused on his new family.
Tom married Marianne Kent and in 1948 they had their first child, Victoria. He then went to work in the timber industry. Over the course of the next five years, he and Marianne had three more children: Patricia, Michael and Kathleen.
Chips retired from the logging industry in 1990. He served on Tribal Council from 1991 through 1999 during a pivotal time as the Tribe decided to pursue gaming as a revenue-generating economic development option and opened Spirit Mountain Casino. In 1996, Tom was the top vote-getter in a Tribal Council election that saw 15 candidates seeking seats.
“My emphasis has always been on our future resources – our Tribal children,” he said in his 1996 Tribal Council candidate statement. “It is important to provide the highest quality of education and health care. I attend as many Tribal children’s activities as I can and enjoy the time getting acquainted with the children.”
In addition to Tribal Council, he served on the Tribe’s Timber Committee, the former Land Acquisition Committee and the Facility Design Committee for the Health & Wellness Center.
In retirement, he enjoyed fishing, spending time with his family and watching football, basketball and baseball games.
Survivors include his three daughters, Victoria Lawrence, former Tribal Council member Kathleen Tom and longtime Health Committee member Patti Tom-Martin, all of Salem; and his son, Michael, also of Salem.
Tom’s passing marks the third former Tribal Council member to walk on this year with Darrel Mercier and Wesley “Buddy” West previously having passed.
A rosary service is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 27, at St. Michael's Catholic Church in Grand Ronde. A funeral service will be held at 10 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 28, in the Tribal gym with a meal to follow at the Elders Activity Center.
A full Walking On notice will appear in the Jan. 1 edition of Smoke Signals.