Richland man who organized Regional Veterans Memorial dies at 83

Geoff Folsom, Tri-City HeraldMay 28, 2014 

Tom McMillin

Tom McMillin

HERALD STAFF

The Regional Veterans Memorial sits in Columbia Park to honor all veterans -- but one veteran in particular worked to make the monument a reality.

Tom McMillin of Richland, who died Tuesday at age 83 in Spokane, was the lead organizer, working with his late wife Joyce for three years to get community support for the monument.

They finally secured a 40-foot granite slab, surrounded by 10 smaller ones, from Hanford.

"Tom's got the tenacity of a bulldog," Kennewick City Councilman Paul Parish said Wednesday. "He gets something on his mind and he's going to see it through to the end."

The effort earned the "President's Citation," signed by Rep. Doc Hastings and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, after the monument opened in 2004. It also helped McMillin, a Navy veteran of the Korean War, win the Kennewick Man of the Year award for 2010.

McMillin also won the Washington State Military Service Award in 2008, for work he did 60 years earlier while serving in the National Guard. He disarmed a man holding two suspected looters at gunpoint during the Kennewick flood of 1948. The men were actually trying to salvage a mattress from a trailer they had rented.

The veterans memorial will serve as McMillin's legacy, but it was far from the only thing he did for the area, friend Dr. Rod Coler wrote when nominating him for the Man of the Year award.

He was co-owner and president of McMillin Brothers Contractors, also known as Hanford Piping. He also served as president of the St. Joseph Catholic Church Men's Club, chairman for nature trails of the Lower Columbia Basin Audubon Society, patrol boat chairman for the Water Follies, officer with Benton Fire District 1 and a member of the National Committee on Heavy Equipment for the Associated General Contractors.

He helped rebuild downtown Kennewick in the 1960s, Coler wrote, taking no profit in putting cement pedestal umbrellas along Kennewick Avenue. His company helped in the 1970s with the community-sponsored Cobalt Cancer Center construction at Kennewick General Hospital, the first cancer radiation unit in the Tri-Cities. He also helped build the flagpole on the blue bridge, along with Dale Metz.

McMillin was involved in a number of Kiwanis projects, including the Columbia Park duck pond, Coler wrote.

Kennewick Police Chief Ken Hohenberg remembers getting a call from McMillin, asking him to come down to the Regional Veterans Memorial to meet a "military guy."

It turned out McMillin was showing the monument to Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, a Richland native and commander of U.S. Central Command, a military authority covering 20 countries from Egypt to Pakistan.

Hohenberg later received a letter from Mattis, telling him he didn't think there could be a more dignified, better-designed and located memorial.

"(Tom) was wonderfully gregarious, an open-hearted and kind man," Mattis said. "Plus, he was a hard-charger, as evidenced by the beautiful Veterans Memorial he and his wife helped create. Those beautiful cut granite columns will stand in Columbia Park as quiet testimony to his persistence."

The monument was something for McMillin to be proud of, Hohenberg said.

"He meant a lot to the veterans," he said. "He was proud of his service. He was proud of our community. He gave a lot back."

-- Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; gfolsom@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom

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