Thomas A. Kirk Ph.D. Jr.
1941 - 2020
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Thomas A. Kirk, Jr., Ph.D. of Cheshire, Connecticut, loving husband & soulmate of Janet W. Kirk, died on April 9, 2020. He was 78 years old. Tom was born on December 9, 1941 in Elizabeth, NJ to the late Winifred T. & Thomas A. Kirk, Sr. He had three sisters – Marie, Clare & Patricia, with whom he was very close. Tom was a resident of Washington, D.C., Richmond, VA, Northern VA, Ridgefield & Cheshire, CT. However, no matter where he called home, his favorite place was the beach. Tom went to St. Peter's Prep in Jersey City, NJ, earned a BA from St. Vincent College in Latrobe, PA, & a PhD, MA from Catholic University in Washington D.C. with a major in Experimental Clinical Psychology. He made and kept lifelong friends through his education. Tom & Janet were married on April 11, 1977 in Richmond, VA. A close friend of Janet's commented that when you referred to the couple, it was really in the form of one word, "JanetandTom." Their love for each other was deep & they enjoyed a rich, long life together. A stubborn, independent soul, Tom was a warm, compassionate man with a huge heart who wanted to help people in need. He believed in quality of relationships, not quantity. He was dedicated to his family & would drop everything for someone. A great sense of humor got you laughing along with him, as his red faced, body shaking, deep belly laughs were infectious. His earth-shattering sneezes could startle a whole building. Rarely would you not find food stains on his clothes. True to his genes, he relished being a storykeeper. Tom would collect & store endless photos (many of which he had taken), tickets, cards, newspaper clippings etc. over the years & when he felt the time was right he would thoughtfully make a calendar or album for a loved one & share in their delight in receiving this incredible gift. His voice was low & soft; often you would struggle to hear him. But you knew what he had to say was important, it had meaning – so you always leaned in. Tom loved music & if Motown was on, you'd be pulled on to the "dance floor" to see some impressive moves & a big smile. He lived & breathed his work. After retirement he enjoyed more travel with his wife Janet, going to art museums, marveling at Janet's blossoming creative talent & he always looked forward to a Yankee or UCONN basketball game. Tom's career began as a tenured professor of psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University. His career thereafter included increasingly responsible leadership roles in the design, delivery & management of healthcare services for persons with psychiatric &/or substance use disorders in both the public & private sectors. While working for the government of the District of Columbia, Tom opened Karrick Hall, an inpatient program at D.C. General where he guided staff & gave hope to clients. One person who knew him in that capacity recently commented that, even 30 years later, people still talk of the impact he had on their lives & the recovery community there. In 1990, Tom began to serve the people of Connecticut, first as president of Liberation Programs, a substance use healthcare agency in Stamford. In 1995, he was appointed Deputy Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Mental Health & Addiction Services (DMHAS). He became Commissioner in 2000 or as people affectionately called him "The Commish." As commissioner of DMHAS, Tom oversaw a 700-million-dollar budget, 4,000 employees in state hospitals & treatment agencies, as well as 175 funded nonprofit community providers. He was recognized as a state and national leader in the recovery movement. Tom led the department as it transitioned into a new healthcare agency, one that brought together mental health & addiction services, with a strong commitment to recovery & a robust drive to ensure & enhance the quality of services provided to individuals with behavioral health disorders. He tirelessly dedicated his career to providing services to persons seeking recovery & demanded that the system of care see them as whole persons, deserving of dignity and respect. Tom did not believe in a top-down hierarchy of care. He strongly believed that the best teachers of what works were the individuals & families he was honored to serve. In addition to heading DMHAS, he was also instrumental in the development of the Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery (CCAR), a nationally recognized advocacy organization for individuals with substance use disorders. In a 2006 review of the mental health systems in all 50 states, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) rated Connecticut, along with Ohio, as the best in the nation. Tom provided leadership at DMHAS for almost 15 years until he retired in 2009. After formal retirement, he consulted across the country, was adjunct faculty in the Yale School of Medicine & provided mentorship to friends, family & former staff alike. He will be long held in the hearts of the countless individuals whose lives he touched. Tom was predeceased by his wife Janet of 42 years by only 9 days. We are comforted by their eternal togetherness in spirit. Tom is survived by his son Michael Kirk, daughter-in-law Julie & grandchildren Patrick & Molly Kirk of Warrenton, VA. He is also survived by his daughter Jessica Kirk of Cheshire, CT. He is predeceased by his sister Marie VanBergen. He is survived by sisters Clare Beirne of Phillipsburg, NJ, Sr. Patricia Kirk of Baltimore, MD, sister-in-law Dani Wester of Falls Church, VA & many beloved nieces and nephews. In lieu of flowers, we ask that you consider donating to one of the following or anywhere you believe Tom would feel strongly about. • Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery. If you are interested in donating, you can do so online at https://ccar.us/ but we do not believe you can specify the reason why you are donating. If interested, you can always call: 866-205-9770. • Benedictine Sisters of Baltimore. Tom's sister Patricia is the Prioress & their community provides outreach to soup kitchens, the homeless, asylum seekers among others. If interested, please go to https://emmanuelosb.org/support.html Or mail to 2229 W. Joppa Rd. Lutherville, MD 21093 Celebration of Life services are to be determined at a later time.

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Published in Hartford Courant on Apr. 26, 2020.
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13 entries
June 24, 2020
Just had a conversation that included Tom and wanted to express my sympathy again here. I last talked to Tom when Janet first got diagnosed. Our last conversation was short and we would scheduling time again once possible. Tom was a motivating reason I was given the opportunity to sit as a board member for CCAR. My desire to have family resources included into addiction recovery still guides me and Tom was a wonderful supporter in helping me to move TriCircle, Inc. forward.
Anytime Tom talked about his family he was so proud and regularly expressed his blessings. Im grateful to have had him in my life.
Ana M. Gopoian
Friend
May 29, 2020
It just so happened that II stumbled upon Dr Kirks passing by way of the Internet. I was Toms Public Health Project Officer for the DMHAS during my tenure in the US DHHS/Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration around 2004-2008
It was my pleasure to work with this Giant in the field of behavioral health.
Although he has departed, his work and his legacy will remain.
Ruby Neville, LMSW
Coworker
May 29, 2020
It just so happened that II stumbled upon Dr Kirks passing by way of the Internet. I was Toms Public Health Project Officer for the DMHAS during my tenure in the US DHHS/Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration around 2004-2008
It was my pleasure to work with this Giant in the field of behavioral health.
Although he has departed, his work and his legacy will remain.
Ruby Neville, LMSW
Coworker
May 14, 2020
So sorry to read of Tom's passing. I worked with Tom on substance abuse treatment advocacy at the State Capitol quite some time ago. The obituary captures Tom well. He was soft spoken, kind, passionate and never had a bad word to say about anyone.
Brian Anderson
Coworker
May 5, 2020
My deepest condolences to the Kirk family. I was so saddened to hear about the passing of Tom and Janet. I knew Tom through my work at Wheeler Clinic and the Ct. Association of Non Profits. I admired Tom so much for his kindness and knowledge of the substance abuse and mental health field. After we had retired, he attended several luncheon get togethers in Old Lyme with a bunch of us who had worked in the field together and had retired or where getting ready to. Tom's passing will be a loss to all of us who worked with him.
DIANE DEPIETRO
Coworker
April 29, 2020
I was so sad to learn of Tom (and Janet's) passing. Tom's vision, compassion, and perseverance truly transformed CT's mental health and substance use system as well as many individuals who worked with and for him. He saw the best in everyone and brought it out. He loved his work when our paths crossed at DMHAS he would always ask, Are you having fun? - and his humor and humility endeared him to many. He was a gem and I've always been grateful I had the opportunity to know and work with him. He will be missed.
Rhonda Kincaid
April 27, 2020
I knew TomandJanet personally for years. Always a fun couple to be around, with much laughter. His style was unmistakable as he always made you feel special. I always commented to family and friends how much he was in love with her and she with him. At least they are in Heaven with each other now. Eternal Remembrance.
Elaine BENCZKOWSKI
Friend
April 27, 2020
I was shocked to hear of Tom's passing. The next day I was told that his wife passed a few days earlier and I was shocked again. Tom was a truly compassionate and great leader that I was grateful to call a friend. After retirement, Tom and I would meet for lunch occasionally. The last time we met he was looking for an organization to which he could volunteer his services. Always looking to help others. He loved to talk about looking forward to his family vacations at the beach.
When Tom became commissioner of DMHAS he completely changed the culture. There was no longer a rush out the door at 4:30. When I called staff at 5:30-6:30 they were still there to answer questions. Of course, Tom was there much longer. He was always keenly interested in helping the truly needy in meaningful ways and made this priority well known. I will miss him.
Kenneth Talge
April 27, 2020
Kenneth Talge
April 26, 2020
I will always remember my years with Tom as he led DMHAS in establishing a first-rate behavioral system of care. Tom was never satisfied with the way things are but how they could be. A true visionary who encouraged all of us to go further and do more in our professional work to make that vision a reality. He will be greatly missed.
Al Bidorini
Coworker
April 25, 2020
I'm so sorry to hear of the passing of Tom and Janet. I worked with Tom in the early to mid 90s, and he was by far the best boss I have ever had. He was a brilliant and accomplished man, but also had a big heart and a wonderful sense of humor.
I will miss him.
Kevin McNamara
April 24, 2020
We join you all with heavy hearts at the loss of JanetandTom. I've never known anyone who worked as hard as Tom. That he balanced it with irrepressible humor and laughter was delightful. His mental health legacy is phenomenal and will endure. May we be comforted that he is with his beloved in spirit.
Love & Peace, Phyllis, Dan, Sophia & Maximilian Craun-Selka
April 23, 2020
So many things I will miss about Tom - his smile, his kindness, his laugh, the way he would buy pizza for the staff on the Friday after Thanksgiving, his dance moves at all the DMHAS holiday parties, and the way he treated people equally and with so much respect. I am so blessed to have known this man and so happy I got to have lunch with him not too long ago. I will miss him everyday and I know Janet and he are happy to be together again. Rest well Tom.
Joann Pappaceno
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