Friends remember man who died saving Down Syndrome son

Thomas Vander Woude; Photo Credit: Christendom College
Thomas Vander Woude; Photo Credit: Christendom College


A requiem Mass was celebrated on Monday for Thomas S. Vander Woude, a former athletic director at Christendom College who died saving his Down Syndrome son who had fallen into a septic tank.

Last week the 66-year-old’s youngest son Joseph, 20, had fallen into a septic tank at Vander Woude’s home in Prince William County. According to the Washington Post, his father jumped into the sewage-filled tank to help his son keep his head above the fouled water while Vander Woude’s wife Mary Ellen and a workman called emergency rescue workers and tried to help.

When he and his son were rescued from the tank, Vander Woude was unconscious. He was later pronounced dead at a hospital.

His son Joseph was hospitalized but is expected to make a full recovery.

Thomas Vander Woude and his wife have seven sons, one of whom is the pastor of a parish in Alexandria, Virginia, the Arlington Catholic Herald says.

He is remembered as a man of faith and service.

Bob Laird, the executive director of Divine Mercy Care and a friend of Vander Woude's, told the Arlington Catholic Herald that,“Tom was a most humble man.” “For all of the good that he did, he took no credit for it, but gave the credit to others and to the intercession of the Blessed Mother. He dedicated his entire life to his family and his faith. This dedication cost him his life saving his son.”

A dedicated volunteer at his parish, Van Woude was responsible for training altar servers at Holy Trinity.

According to Laird, Van Woude and his wife were one of the first Natural Family Planning couples to work with the Couple to Couple League in the Arlington Diocese.

He and his wife would also hold massive annual Marian celebrations at their home each May.

“His May picnics were infamous (sic),” Laird explained to the Arlington Catholic Herald. “It was sort of like an open invitation, and there were hundreds of people there. I think they stopped after awhile because they just got too big.”

A retired commercial airline pilot, he worked as the athletic director at Christendom College in Fort Royal, Virginia for five years until 2007 when his son Chris took over.

“He was a great man, a devout Roman Catholic, and great friend of the college," said Christendom President Timothy O’Donnell. “He sent his children here and made an incredible contribution to not only our athletics program, but also the larger life of the community here. Our hearts go out to his family at this time. He will be deeply missed."

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