In Honor of Dr. Thomas B. Manton
A Profile in Courage, Resolve and Heroism
Tom Manton was born in Rangoon, Burma, almost 72 years ago, as the oldest son of missionary parents. His upbringing and rich life in Asia both informed and acculturated him in a way that gave him great compassion for people without a voice. He assumed this very posture toward everyone he met and worked with throughout the BP Gulf oil spill.
Tom was the former President and CEO of the International Oil Spill Control Corporation, which began operations in the Middle East, and specifically addressed the oil spills in Saudi Arabia. The Saudis had huge desalination plants along their coastlines with multi-million dollar filtration membranes that were easily ruined by the spilt oil and gas which got into the system. The real challenge, therefore, became how to clean up the oil in the most environmentally sensitive and effective way because this was after all the water they would drink, bathe in and cook with.
In the earliest days of the Gulf oil spill, Tom was so shocked at how BP “broke every rule in the book” that he put everything else aside and worked exclusively on the spill 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. His primary message to the Government was that an oil company should never, ever, be given control over their own oil spill in that such an arrangement would guarantee another disaster, and very likely a far worse one.
From May to August of 2010 Tom’s International Oil Spill Control Organization was one of the primary participants in the Gulf Oil Spill Remediation Conference, an International Citizens’ Initiative. During this time none of us in Florida knew that Tom had been falsely accused of a crime. In spite of carrying such a burden he conducted radio and TV interviews, authored a variety of articles and met with various state and county officials along the Gulf right up to the Governor’s Office in Florida.
Throughout this entire time –
He was fearless. He was determined. He was proactive 24/7. His self-sacrifice at every turn was inspiring to all of us – he was like a lion roaming the Gulf Coast. He was forced to walk miles in 95 degree heat to witness Obama’s statement on Pensacola Beach … he walked for miles down Main Street, Tallahassee to meet with the Governor’s office, the TV Stations, and state representatives … he drove all over Louisiana from Grand Isle to New Orleans to Venice meeting with representatives from the Coast Guard, BP, various parishes in coastal Louisiana, as well as numerous media outlets.
Tom was up every morning sending the latest reports by email every day at 6am. Mapping out new strategies to bring in the likes of Jimmy Carter, the ex-governors of Florida, or anyone else with high profiles who might draw needed attention to this “Disaster of the Millennium”. Always writing opeds, exposes on BP or lessons on how to properly clean up an oil spill, spreading his wisdom in this manner became his pastime. As a direct descendent of Thomas Jefferson, he was fiercely patriotic, and his command of history entered many a screed directed toward BP. The 2nd American Revolution, he called it.
To perform with such courage, resolve and initiative in the face of such personal adversity was truly exemplary. Can you imagine the personal risks he assumed by exposing himself to the extraordinary forces that we all saw at work around this spill?! Tom saw the cover-up immediately and sought to expose it, lest we lose a whole way of life and colorful culture unique to the coastal communities of the Gulf of Mexico. He never gave up the fight to convince the governments – federal, state, county and city – that there was a much better way to clean up the oil, and restore the waters.
Through it all he never revealed the difficulties of his legal entanglements, until he was wrongfully imprisoned by the Florida Criminal Justice System. At 71 and ailing from heart surgery he was coerced into accepting a sentence of time-served. So convinced was he that he would serve no more prison time, he signed away forever his right to appeal the conviction. When sentencing day came, Tom was given a 15-year sentence (as an innocent first time offender), essentially guaranteeing that Tom would die in prison.
Tom’s last letters to family and friends were peppered with statements that he would soon be killed in prison if he was not quickly released pending appeal. Each successive letter became more desperate; then a couple of weeks ago he was attacked in a Florida Panhandle state prison, where he should have never been placed given his age, infirmity and disposition. He passed away a few days later after suffering quietly from extreme head trauma the entire time, paying heed to death threats if he informed on his assailant. Even the prison chaplain wondered why Tom did not show up for his regular religious service, which Tom himself was selected to lead that weekend.
This is not a happy story at all, but Tom wanted it told, so that others would not fall prey as he did to the machinations of those who were bent on stifling the truth. No matter what the damage to his reputation, he only wanted these and many other truths about the BP oil spill to be revealed in order that the nation would be protected and the environment preserved for future generations.
Clearly, if there were more Tom Mantons in the world, the BP Gulf oil spill would have had a radically different, and perhaps acceptable, outcome.
May God Bless Tom Manton,
And may he rest in peace forever.