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Thomas Gallagher


1940 - 2018 Obituary Condolences
Thomas Gallagher Obituary
Thomas Gallagher

Tinton Falls - Tom Gallagher was born in Manhattan the son of Thomas Sr. and Mary Josephine Murphy Gallagher who were personal servants to the family that founded MGM and Random House. Tom graduated from Holy Spirit School in Asbury Park, NJ, Red Bank Catholic High School, Monmouth University (BA, 1962) and the University of Southern California where he earned a Master's degree in social work.

Tom began his working career at age 11, working as a caddy at the Hollywood Golf Club in New Jersey where the first Mrs. Ronald Reagan gave him the nickname "Buttercup." He liked Ms. Wyman but hated the nickname.

Five days after graduating from Monmouth Tom entered the first Peace Corps group to go to Ethiopia. After training at Georgetown University, Tom's group of volunteers was seen off by President and Mrs. Kennedy at a tea party in the Green Room and welcomed on arrival in Addis Ababa by His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie I who is believed to be God by the Rasta sect. Tom was assigned to the small town of Agordot in the province of Eritrea. A month after his arrival in Agordot, while teaching a seventh-grade history class, Tom heard the first shot of the longest war of the 20th century: the Eritrean War for Independence. He was one of the earliest American supporters of Eritrean independence (which was finally achieved in 1991) and remained devoted to Eritrea and its people for the rest of his life. Sixty years after leaving the Peace Corps, Tom was still in touch with 13 of the 80 boys he taught in Agordot. He returned to Ethiopia for the 50th anniversary of his Peace Corps group's arrival in that country where his group were welcomed by Ethiopian President Girma in the same room in which Haile Selassie had welcomed them five decades earlier.

On returning to the United States Tom began his first full salaried job at the White House where he worked in the early days of the Johnson administration's War on Poverty. He wrote the first anti-poverty grants for San Francisco, Dayton, OH, and Leslie County Kentucky, the poorest county in the U.S.

In 1965 Tom entered the U.S. Foreign Service. His first assignment was to Jidda, Saudi Arabia where he was mentored by the greatest American Arabist, Ambassador Herman Fr. Eilts. Tom planned the evacuation of the American community from western Saudi Arabia during the June War in 1967 and was chosen by Ambassador Eilts to be one of the last 10 Americans to remain in the Middle East during that war (in the end, a somewhat larger group remained after the evacuation.)

After his tour in Saudi Arabia the State Department assigned Tom to Paris, but he refused that assignment because of his desire to return to Africa. He was assigned to a small American consulate in northern Nigeria where he spent two years while the Biafran War raged in southern Nigeria. He was the first U.S. government officer investigate an outbreak of Lassa fever, a close relative of Ebola, at its source in Jos, Nigeria. Time Magazine reported that Lassa had the potential to kill 25% of humanity. It didn't.

Tom returned to the United States in 1970 where he worked in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the State Department. There he ran the Southern African Students Program, which brought more than 500 black students from the Republic of South Africa to study in the U.S. He also co-organized the Pan Africa/US Track Meet which drew 42,000 spectators to the Duke University stadium making it the largest track meet in North America in 1972. The meet was also the only event in the history of track and field in which a single team represented a continent.

In 1972 Tom moved to the State Department's Office of Personnel where he made the first assignment of a female officer to the Office of the Secretary of State and the first assignment of a female officer to Arabic training. Forty years later Tom's colleagues in DACOR, the organization of retired U.S. diplomats, honored him with their annual Tragen Award for his support of the women's movement at State in its earliest days.

In 1975 Tom was assigned as Acting U.S. Consul General in Guayaquil, Ecuador. At 34 he was the youngest chief of a major American diplomatic mission in modern U.S. history.

In that same year Tom publicly "came out" as a gay man at a conference organized by the Gay Activist Alliance of Washington, DC, making him the first officer of the U.S. federal government to come out publicly and voluntarily. Thirty-eight years later in the course of a speech in which she guaranteed U.S. government support for gay rights worldwide Secretary of State Hilary Clinton spent several minutes praising Tom for permanently changing the State Department by challenging the total discrimination against gay people which persisted when Tom came out.

His coming out forced Tom to resign from the State Department. He moved to California to pursue a career as a social worker. He worked as emergency room social worker at the UCLA Hospital in Los Angeles and taught interviewing skills at the UCLA School of Medicine. Tom also volunteered as director of the Counseling Program at the Gay Community Service Center in Los Angeles, the largest gay counseling program in the world at the time.

On moving to northern California, Tom became social work supervisor for the Travelers Aid Society of San Francisco where he developed the first counseling program for children in the Tenderloin, San Francisco's most notorious slum. That program was later cited as a national model on Public Broadcasting's show "To the Contrary." In 1980 Tom became director of Napa County' psychiatric emergency program. After Tom had run that program for four years it was inspected by the State of California Department of Mental Health, which declared it to be "the best in the State." Upon the presentation of an award to Tom for his work during the AIDS epidemic, the president of the American Foundation for AIDS Research, Dr. Matilda Krim, said that Tom was a member of the "elite and nobility of your generation."

In 1994, when the policy of formal discrimination against gay Foreign Service Officers was lifted by President Clinton, Tom returned to his first career. His first assignment upon his return to the State Department was to the U.S. Embassy in Madrid as American Consul. In the course of his World AIDS Day speech in 2004 Secretary of State Colin Powell noted that while in Spain Tom had raised three million dollars for the Spanish AIDS Foundation.

On leaving Spain, Tom was appointed as Country Officer for Eritrea and Sudan in the State Department's Office of East African Affairs. In 1998 he negotiated a truce between the Nuer and Dinka tribes in southern Sudan who were threatening to go to war. Seventeen years later that war broke out again resulting in roughly 100,000 lives lost. Tom led the State Department's efforts to destroy Joseph Kony's Lords Resistance Army which abducted 30,000 children into slavery and killed 200,000 people in Uganda and Sudan. With one other officer, Tom managed the day-to-day response of the U.S. government to Sudan's civil war, the largest conflict since World War II. Tom led the U.S. delegation to a conference in the Hague of 15 donor nations which raised $1.5 billion in food aid for more than a million Sudanese who were starving as a result of the war in their homeland. Secretary of State Albright presented Tom with a Certificate of Appreciation for his work following the bombing of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam. Working with one other Foreign Service Officer, Tom spearheaded an effort to end the current war between Ethiopia and Eritrea. President Bill Clinton and the U.S. Institute for Peace later praised their efforts as an excellent example of grass roots work for peace.

In 1999 Tom was transferred to the U.S. Embassy in Brussels as head of the visa section. He proudest accomplishment there was the refusal of a visa to a radical young Moroccan who wanted to return to his studies in mosquito spraying at the flight school in Opa Laka, Florida in September 2001. The CIA had publicly announced its concern that al-Qaida was planning to spray poison on an American city. That event did not happen.

Tom later returned to Washington to work in the Office of Central African Affairs where he served as Country Officer for the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He managed the day-to-day response of the U.S. government to the war in that country, which took over from Sudan as the largest war since 1945. Tom was a member of the U.S. delegation to peace negotiations held at the Hotel Rwanda in Kegali with a goal of ending the conflict in the Congo.

Tom's final tour at the State Department was at the Office of International Health where he served as regional advisor for Europe in what was at the time the most effective worldwide anti-AIDS program.

After retiring in 2005 Tom continued to do occasional brief tours for the State Department serving at 17 embassies and consulates on five continents.

In 2015 Monmouth University named Tom as their Distinguished Alumnus of the Year.

Tom taught a course on the Modern Middle East as an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at Monmouth, and he was a member of the Advisory Board of the university's Honors School. In the course of his career Tom was a member of the field or adjunct faculties of seven universities.

In 2016 NJ Pride, the New Jersey gay organization, presented Tom with its Trailblazer award in recognition of his many years of gay activism.

In that same year the Assistant Secretary of State for Security Affairs publicly apologized to Tom for the fact that he had been forced to give up his career 40 years earlier.

In 2012 Tom auditioned for and was accepted into the New York City Gay Men's Chorus, allowing him to dance and sing his way through old age. He sang with the Chorus on Broadway, at Carnegie Hall with Chita Rivera, at the Plaza Hotel with Bernadette Peters and at the Grand Canal Theater in Dublin. While in Ireland, Tom, who was a dual national of the U.S. and Ireland, gave a well-received speech in favor of gay marriage in Ireland.

More than anything he just liked to make people laugh. Tom was a storyteller. His Irish eyes, hearty laugh, wry sense of humor and passion for living and loving others resonated in the hearts of those who knew him and will continue to do so in his memory. He relished traveling, tuna fish sandwiches, tea, sleeping well past the sun rising and singing in a choir. But perhaps paramount in Tom's life was the deep love he had for his husband, Amin.

Tom is survived by his former wife, Carolyn Worrell who is a judge in Nevada, and by his husband, Amin Dulkumoni, a software engineer. At his bequest, Tom's body was donated for research and education to the Mercer County Community College. Memorial services are being planned at the DACOR Bacon House in Washington, DC, this September, and at Monmouth University in New Jersey later this summer. For details, please contact Amin.
Published in Asbury Park Press on July 11, 2018
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