Tom Morgan

Tom Morgan

Support Local Journalism


Those of us who were blessed to know Tom Morgan experienced the purest form of humanity and inspiration on how to truly live… with no excuses allowed, because this Ennis-boy was one-of-a-kind!

Tom was the second son born to parents Neil and Maude on May 12, 1941, in HOLLYWOOD, California. At the age of five his family fatefully moved to Ennis Montana for the drier climate. There his parents built the El Western Motel on the banks of O’Dell Creek. Tom began fishing soon after at the age of seven and started guiding fishing trips when he was 15 years old. He graduated from Ennis High School and then enrolled at MSU which he attended right up until his last semester when he dropped out after reading Atlas Shrugged, deciding he didn't want to become part of the “corporate machine.” From then on he remained faithful to his fly fishing passion.

Tom met Mona King, a nurse at the hospital in Ennis while his father was a patient under her care. Tom and Mona were married in 1968. Jennifer was born in 1969 and Tom moved the family to Clarkston, Washington, to sell boats on the Clearwater River. After that, steelhead fishing was in Tom’s blood. In 1970, Peter was born and the family moved back to Ennis to run the El Western Motel. Tom’s passion for fly fishing lead him to move the family to San Francisco when he purchased the R.L. Winston Rod Company in 1973. A year later Tim was born. In 1976 Tom decided to move the R.L. Winston Rod Company to Twin Bridges, Montana, where it remains a bedrock of the community today. Settling down to run R.L. Winston allowed for new family adventures. He took his kids on a week-long bike rides from Dillon to Bannock and Wisdom, camping on the side of the road. In the early 1980s, Tom and Mona divorced and Mona moved to Belgrade. Tom shortly followed to help raise their children while still commuting to Twin Bridges for work. Tom was a supportive and loving father to his children and stepchildren and offered advice and guidance without judgment right up until his death.

In 1989 Tom met Pat McPherson through a singles column in the paper, which ignited a passionate-whirlwind-of-a-romance resulting in marriage the following summer. Tom was the love of Pat’s life and he brought much laughter and happiness into their home in the short time they had together. Pat passed away in the fall of 1991 of a brain aneurism, leaving behind her two teen daughters Kathy and Melissa, to whom Tom remained their second-father for the rest of his life. Pat’s son Bill was in the Navy.

Tom sold R.L. Winston in the summer of 1991 just as the first signs of Multiple Sclerosis started to appear, although that certainly never slowed him down.

In 1993, Tom was given a third chance at love when through their mutual friend Dorothy, he met Gerri Carlson, who had recently returned from serving in the Peace Corps in the Czech Republic. Joined by their family and friends they were married on the banks of the Madison River five months later. Together they built their dream home which included a small rod shop with views of several mountain ranges. Tom always wanted to have a small fly rod company where he would build the perfect rod regardless of cost. He convinced Gerri that it would be a great thing for them to do.

Tom’s MS advanced quickly and by 1996, he was unable to move voluntarily below the neck. With Tom's guidance, Gerri learned to build rods and together they created their exquisitely hand-crafted fly rods for 22 years.

Gerri never thought of Tom, and he never thought of himself, as disabled. Tom accomplished more flat on his back than most people do in a lifetime. Using voice-activated software, Tom corresponded with people all over the world and continued designing the world’s best fly rods. In addition to being Tom's wife, Gerri was Tom's partner in Tom Morgan Rodsmiths and his full-time caretaker. Tom met challenges head on and always focused on what he could do and not what he couldn't do. Gerri rarely heard him complain, he never felt sorry for himself and he continued to live as normal a life as possible. These included family gatherings, yearly trips back to the UP of Michigan where Gerri’s parents lived, camping over 250 days in their rustically retrofitted ‘85 Ford Econoline van "Moby." Tom also regularly hosted clients from around the world to discuss rods. In February of 2017 Tom and Gerri sold Tom Morgan Rodsmiths to Matt Barber and Joel Doub, two very talented, wonderful men who have been apprenticing with Tom and Gerri since the first of February.

The gifts Tom gave to us all are many. But the most important one is that he never, ever gave up. His illness never stopped him from leading a fulfilling, meaningful and passionate life.

Tom truly was the star in Gerri’s life and for so many others as well. While Tom is gone from us now, we can still find him in the alpine glow; in the soft, cool wind that blows; in the circling flight of a red tail hawk; in the evening light on the grasses gold; in the quiet stream with a cast just right; and in the twinkling stars that shine each night. Tom passed away peacefully on Monday, June 12, 2017, from pneumonia. "I am ready to climb to the stars" was one of the last things Tom spoke. Tom’s star will continue to shine bright for all of us who knew, loved and respected him, and as a result we are all so much more.

Preceding Tom in death were his parents Neil and Maude Morgan, older brother Jerry Morgan and Tom’s second wife Patricia McPherson Morgan. Surviving Tom is his wife Gerri Carlson, his children and their families: daughter Jennifer Morgan, and her children Sarah and Alex Anderson of Tacoma, Washington; son Peter Morgan, his wife Dana and their daughters Riley, Alexandria and Lanie of Belgrade; son Tim Morgan and Tom’s first wife, Mona Morgan both of Bozeman. Also surviving Tom are his three stepchildren and their families: Kathy McPherson-Glynn, her husband Ken, and their children Sophia and Noah; Melissa McPherson Summerfield, and her husband Leif, and their sons Avery and Ethan, all of Bozeman. Bill McPherson, his wife Cathy and their children Katrina and Will of Santee, California.

A Memorial is set for July 22, 2017, at the El Western in Ennis, Montana. A potluck is planned, if you have plans to attend Tom’s gathering, would you be so kind to RSVP to Kathy at either: or call 406.587.7217.

Support Local Journalism

To see what else is happening in Gallatin County subscribe to the online paper.

Recommended for you