Dr. Tomi Bortolazzo, doctor, mother, athlete, whirlwind, died in her sleep on Tuesday, October 13. She was 53.
As her husband of 28 years, Ron Malm, said this week, “Tomi considered sleep a waste of time, a hassle … it was a chunk of time where she couldn’t do anything.”
And boy, she liked to do things.
There was the time she got lectured by her OB/GYN for waterskiing when she was eight months pregnant.
Or the time, after completing her medical residency, where she turned to her husband and said, “Okay, now it’s time for you to teach me how to fly a plane.”
Or the time where her son Randy wrote an essay in school which talked about how he wanted to be an Olympic skier.
So Tomi told the family, in so many words: “Then let’s figure out how to move to Mammoth so Randy can pursue this.”
As Ron recalled, Tomi’s motto was “You can do anything if you try hard enough and put your mind to it.”
Force of nature probably doesn’t even capture it.
“If you weren’t going 100 m.p.h with your hair on fire, you weren’t hanging out with Tomi,” said Ron.
Tomi was born on January 16, 1962 in Santa Barbara where she attended Cold Spring School, Marymount, and graduated in 1979 from Santa Barbara High School. She received her undergraduate degree in biochemistry and cell biology from UC San Diego in 1984, where she also captained the Women’s Soccer Team. She received her medical degree from Chicago Medical School at the Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science in 1988 and completed her residency in surgery and urology at Loma Linda University Medical Center. She was a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons and was certified by the American Board of Urology.
Before moving full-time to Mammoth in 2005, Tomi practiced for 11 years with the San Antonio Urology Medical Group in Upland. In 2002, she became the first woman and youngest person ever to serve as Chief of Staff at San Antonio Community Hospital.
As her mother Ara Croce explained, “Tomi decided to be a doctor at age 13.”
Close friend Laurey Carlson further explained with a smile, “Tomi became a surgeon because she loved to sew and knew she couldn’t make a living as a seamstress.”
Son Randy recalled that his mother hand-made a number of Halloween costumes for the boys growing up.
Tomi met her husband at a friend’s wedding in Chicago. She was in medical school at the time. Her husband is a commercial pilot.
“Everyone jokes that as a pilot, you always have a checklist,” said Ron.
“I suppose I had a checklist when it came to the woman I wanted to marry. Before Tomi, I’d never made it too far down the checklist with anyone. But with her, it was like she ticked off every box one after the other. Doesn’t need a blow dryer, will camp in the woods, will nurse baby while simultaneously driving waterski boat … “
To give credit where credit is due, her mother offered that above image, of Tomi driving the waterski boat for Ron in a bikini with a pager hooked onto it while nursing Randy.
Tomi was the type of doctor who was always available to her patients. As her husband says, “Not only did she always work 50 to 60 hours a week, but she would always be on call. Her pager was always on … I know it sounds like a cliché, but she always put everyone else first; me, the kids, her patients. I’d actually made some progress in recent years in getting her to do some things for herself. She was finally taking a little time after pushing so hard for so many years.”
“I don’t think I ever heard her say no,” said Carlson.
The only times she ever turned off her pager completely were during prized family outings to the Temple Bar area of Lake Mead, where the whole family would launch the ski boat, dogs and all, and go look for a place to camp.
Ron noted that youngest son Russell, with Mom’s encouragement, had recently applied to and been accepted at Carrabassett Valley Academy, a boarding school located in Maine which boasts a full skier cross training program, the only one of its kind in the country.
Russell was recently named to the United States Ski Team and will participate in the Winter Youth Oltmpics in Lillehammer, Norway in February, 2016.
Son Randy recently graduated from Westminster College in Utah and is working in Southern California for a large lumber company.
The night before she died, Tomi and her husband had spoken about the prospect of imminently becoming empty nesters.
At the time of her death, Tomi was Chief of Staff at Mammoth Hospital in Mammoth Lakes and a member of the medical staff at Northern Inyo Hospital in Bishop.
She is survived by her husband Ron Malm, sons Randy and Russell and a large extended family.
A celebration of Tomi’s life will be held this Sunday, October 25 at 2 p.m. in the Mountainside Conference Center at MMSA’s Main Lodge.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to the Mammoth Hospital Foundation, P.O. Box 660, Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546 (mammothhospital.com) or Mammoth Lakes Foundation, P.O. Box 1815, Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546 (mammothlakesfoundation.org).