Thomas F. Eagleton '50
Our Class and our country have lost a great man and a good man. Tom died March 4, 2007, in St. Louis of heart, respiratory and other problems.
After graduating from Amherst, he received his law degree at Harvard Law School in 1953. He was elected circuit attorney of St. Louis in 1956, the year he married Barbara Ann Smith of St. Louis. Tom was elected attorney general of Missouri in 1960 and lieutenant governor in 1964. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1968 and served three terms, retiring in January 1987.
I was grateful, in reading the newspaper obituaries, to see that after the inevitable references to the McGovern episode in 1972, Tom was written about in such a way that everyone would conclude, as we have always known, that this was a man of high principle and a fine mind. He was direct and forthright. There was no artifice in him.
He was proudest of his bill to cut off funding for US bombing of Cambodia, but his other worthy contributions included being a principal sponsor of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
He was known for his bipartisanship, and one of his closest friends was his Republican colleague from Missouri, Senator John Danforth, who said that Tom “was respected on both sides of the aisle.”
After he retired from the Senate, he joined a St. Louis law firm, taught at Washington Univ. there, and had a major role in bringing the Rams professional football team from Los Angeles to St. Louis.
I remember that, at one of our Reunions, Senator Tom was sitting on a stool in the bar area of our headquarters at 11:30 p.m. surrounded by twenty five to thirty students and vigorously discussing gun control. That was Tom—interested in everything, enthusiastic about everything and engaged with people.
I tried to persuade him to return for our 50th, but by then his hearing loss (and not any lack of interest in the College or his classmates) made him decline.
I was one of Tom’s many “pen pals.” When you were a pen pal, you received mail by the pound, not the ounce; packets full of articles from newspapers, magazines and periodicals of every stripe and on every subject, political, economic, social, environmental, liberally annotated (pro and con) by Tom. Again, that lively, sparkling mind at work (and right to the end!).
One of Tom’s students at Washington Univ. said, “Professor Eagleton showed his students that politicians can be thinkers. We might hope that we had more like him.”
Another pen pal, Senator Jean Carnahan, said that Tom was “a true statesman, a man who loved books, people, good public policy and a well-turned phrase.” One of his colleagues said, “Tom Eagleton managed to be a statesman, an intellectual and a man of the people all at the same time.”
Last, but not least, Tom had a great sense of humor. His wit was mischievous. Senator Danforth has said, “He was funny and he saw the ridiculous in things.” He was loved for that too.
He is survived by his wife, Barbara; a son, Terence; a daughter, Christin Fleming; a brother, Kevin; and three grandchildren.
Bob McKean ’50