Orange County man, whose organ donation helped 40+ people, to be honored on Rose Parade float

FOUNTAIN VALLEY, Calif. (KABC) -- Jean Zech and her kids, Matthew and Margie, look through photos and remember a loving husband and father, Tom Zech.

"He was everybody's friend. Everyone loved him," recalled Margie Frame, Tom's 25-year-old daughter. "He was a great dad."

Tom, a Huntington Beach resident, worked as a truck driver and loved the outdoors. He was 54 years old when he suddenly passed away in 2013 after suffering an asthma attack.

"It was a shock, a total shock, still is," said his wife Jean. "I mean, it's hard to believe. You take life for granted."

The father of four who lived life to the fullest always encouraged people to share the gift of life with others. He was a supporter of the group Donate Life after a family member needed a kidney transplant.

"He really was a firm believer in it," said Jean.

For years, he helped decorate the Donate Life Rose Parade floats and helped his family with A Ride Across America, riding ATVs from California to New York to raise awareness of the importance of organ donation. After his death, his own organ and tissue donation helped more than 40 people to live on.

"It's such a blessing. I'm so glad these people were able to get his organs and live on," said Jean.

His legacy will also live on through the Donate Life Rose Parade float this year. Sixty donors are being honored with portraits.

Tom's image is covered in flowers: His family took turns decorating, pasting tiny flowers and seeds during a special get together on his birthday on Nov. 7.

"It's crazy how much it really captured my dad in the beautiful portrait," said his 20-year-old son Matthew.

Tom was the only donor from Orange County to be honored with a portrait on the float, chosen by Dignity Memorial and Fairhaven Memorial Park & Mortuary -- sponsors of the 2016 Donate Life float.

"Tom Zech was an unsung hero. He had done so much for organ donation with his involvement in the Ride Across America ... to his own generous gift of life at the end of his life," said Tiffany Gallarzo with Fairhaven Memorial Park & Mortuary.

New Years Day, the Zechs will sit in the bleachers and watch as the Donate Life float passes by, embracing the theme "Treasure Life's Journey."

"He was so selfless till the day he died," Margie said. "He's my hero."
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