Retired US AF Colonel Thomas “Tom” O’Regan Haig died of natural causes Sunday, March 15, 2020, at 9:10 p.m. at Agrace Hospice in Fitchburg, WI. He was 98 years old.
Tom Haig was born on June 12, 1921, the third of four children of Robert Bruce Haig and Nellie Elizabeth Regan Haig in Ypsilanti, Michigan, where Mr. and Mrs. Haig owned and operated a pharmacy. After graduating from Ypsilanti High School, Tom attended Ypsilanti’s Normal College and Cleveland’s Case School of Applied Science, working his way through college as an architectural draftsman. He earned an undergraduate degree (U of Ill. BSEE with High Honors), and a Masters (MSBA, George Washington U.), and attended the Industrial College of the Armed Forces.
Tom Haig was among the first meteorology officers in the Air Force and spent his WWII service in the South Pacific, setting up weather stations and forecasting weather for Air Force pilots in the area. During the early 1950s, he worked on balloon reconnaissance programs. Later, he managed requirements for satellite ground support at the Air Force Ballistic Missile Division until 1961, developing tracking and control stations for early surveillance programs. As a Lt. Colonel, Tom directed the development of the military polar orbiting meteorological satellite program.
The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) established a classified effort in 1961 to develop a weather satellite to provide data to help the military schedule aerial reconnaissance and satellite photography when clouds were unlikely to impede the view. Tom was tapped to lead this effort, and for the next seven years, his program continued to deliver excellent data within tight cost and schedule constraints. The weather satellite program was transferred to Space Systems Division in the mid-1960s and was re-named the Air Force’s Defense Meteorological Satellite Program. Colonel Haig served as director of the increasingly successful DMSP until 1968. The Air Force Weather History Office says, “Colonel Haig has been called by some the Father of the Air Force Weather Satellite Program” and goes on to explain that “[The program’s] use was expanded and provided meteorological data for aircraft flights during the Cuban missile crisis, for the evacuation of civilians from the Congo, and for air operations in Vietnam.” The project has continued to collect data for atmospheric science, military surveillance, and other uses until the present time.
Tom Haig received three Commendations, two Legion of Merit medals, and the Space and Missile Pioneer medallion from the Air Force, a silver medallion designating him a Pioneer of Satellite Meteorology from the Secretary of Commerce, and election to the Hall of Fame at the National Reconnaissance Office. His portrait hangs in the Hall of Fame at AF Space Command, Peterson AFB, Colorado Springs.
In 1968, Tom retired from the Air Force as Colonel and, in 1970, after a stint in private industry, became Executive Director of the Space Science and Engineering Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he continued to oversee meteorological satellite programs. In his own words, “Today, throughout the world, when you see a weathercaster on TV standing before an image of moving clouds combined with graphic displays of other data—thank SSEC. It was all developed there and given to everyone.”
While in training in 1944, he met the love of his life on a blind date, and on May 4, 1946, while on leave from his service in the South Pacific, Tom Haig married Barbara “Bobbie” Helene Havens. During the 65 years of their marriage, they moved over 20 times and, as he would have said, had five intelligent, accomplished children—four handsome sons and a beautiful daughter.
As well as raising their own five children, the Haigs were devoted foster parents, taking in a large number of others in need of nurture. What started as an idea to find a companion for their youngest child became a decades-long commitment. They opened their hearts to dozens of children needing a home, leading to long-term bonds.
While working at SSEC, Tom Haig moved with his family to an 80 acre remnant of a dairy farm in Vermont Township, first renovating the old farm house and then taking on the herculean task of converting the old dairy barn into a custom home. He put his draftsman skills to work, doing the architectural designs and drawings himself, and then worked for over thirty years to complete the build. The thirty-plus years Tom and Bobbie spent in the Black Earth area were the happiest ones of their lives. They worked hard to re-establish prairie, grassland, and wooded areas on their property, and they became fixtures in the community. Tom sat on the Wisconsin Heights school board for at least one term, and both Tom and Bobbie joined many community organizations in the Madison and Black Earth areas.
After he retired from the University of Wisconsin in 1979, Tom continued his work on the barn-house, his involvement in the community, and his efforts to reclaim the land in Vermont Township, but he also found a new focus: community theater. By 2000, he and Bobbie had been active in nearly every theater group in the Madison area, with Tom taking on more than 70 acting roles, including Scrooge for Madison’s Children Theater. He took on the leadership of the Madison Theater Guild and started Reprise Theater with local actor Jo Lynaugh, focusing on roles for senior citizens. Then, in 1993, he began planning seriously for a Madison-based performance space. Over a reasonably short time, Tom gathered like-minded theater people and redesigned and renovated an old movie theater on Madison’s Capitol Square into a live performance space, doing much of the work himself, assisted by his family members and other volunteers. In 2004, The Bartell Theatre was officially established and continues today to provide a space for avant garde and traditional productions.
Tom Haig also authored and co-authored three books of genealogical history about his and his wife’s ancestors and their descendants, and in 2017 he published his own 300-page memoir, all while battling macular degeneration. Details of Tom Haig’s early life, his marriage to Barbara “Bobbie” Havens, his meteorology career in the Air Force, his career at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and his creatively rich retirement can be found in Tom: A Memoir, self-published in 2017 and available in the Wisconsin Historical Society’s library.
Tom was a devoted father and husband, a beloved Madison-area notable since 1970, a raconteur and philanthropist. A creative, generous, and persistent man in whatever endeavor he attempted, he never backed down in the face of adversity and opened his heart and home to all.
Thomas O. Haig was predeceased by his wife, parents, and siblings as well as his daughter-in-law, Margaret Joy Haig. He is survived by his children: John Havens Haig (Kazue Komiyama), Paul Regan Haig (Diane Fogoros Haig), Robert Bruce Haig (Nancy Bell Haig), Charles Thomas Haig (Tamlyn Akins), and Katherine Helene Haig (Justin Raymond Schaefer); four grandchildren: Kenneth Graf Regan Haig (Yuka Shibuya Haig), Kaya Haig Plansker (Jeffery Scott Plansker), Eileen O’Regan Haig, and William Thomas Schaefer; and four great-grandchildren: Kekoa Shibuya, Vera Joy, Noelani Joy Kamebuchi, and Scott Dennis; as well as a host of devoted friends and colleagues.
Tom’s family is planning a Celebration of Life for June in or near Madison, Wisconsin.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the arts or theater organization of your choice.
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