Cover photo for Thomas D. Sullivan's Obituary
Thomas D. Sullivan Profile Photo
1951 Thomas 2023

Thomas D. Sullivan

July 19, 1951 — October 2, 2023


MADISON/GREEN BAY — Thomas D. Sullivan, died on October 2, 2023, surrounded by his family. He was a husband, father, grandfather, brother, friend, and lifelong Packer and Badger sports fan.

Tom was born in Green Bay, Wisconsin, to Donel and Jean Sullivan, the fourth of nine siblings. He grew up attending Packer games, having family picnics at Point Beach, going out for perch on Friday nights, visiting family in Boston, and spending the holidays with the Bittners and Burntons. After graduating from Premontre High School, he attended UW-Madison and spent summers working construction. Tom was employed for a few years as a lab technician at the University of Arizona in Tucson then returned to UW-Madison, earning a Ph.D. in molecular biology at McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research in 1985. He continued to do research in several labs on campus and particularly enjoyed exploring starch synthesis and corn genetics in Oliver Nelson’s lab. Before retirement, Tom was a member of Bruce Klein’s research group that investigated various aspects of blastomycosis.

After marrying Karen Nakasone in 1981, Tom enjoyed many visits to Hawaii and was warmly embraced by her immediate and extended family. He couldn’t get enough of the pleasant weather, sandy beaches, snorkeling, and local food. Trips to Hawaii continued after daughters Maya and Samara were welcomed into the family. Tom was an engaged father who dropped the girls at daycare or got them ready for school in the morning and was home for dinner each night. He attended Maya’s soccer games and Samara’s Irish dance competitions. Later, he enjoyed spending time with granddaughters Layla and Chloe.

Tom took charge of his complex medical issues and rarely complained as his health declined. He had many interests besides sports, such as music of all kinds (especially Bob Dylan, traditional folk music, and jazz), the yearly migration of the whooping cranes, movies, history, and science. In retirement, he listened to WORT (a local radio station) everyday, did the daily crossword puzzle, spent hours talking to family and friends all over the country, and enjoyed trying out new restaurants in town. 

We will miss his patience, kindness, wry, ironic humor, concise explanation of medical issues, and helpful advice. Tom is survived by Karen, his wife of 42 years, daughters Maya and Samara (Mikhail), and granddaughters Chloe and Layla. He is also survived by his siblings, Mary Margaret, John (Sally), Patrick, Martha (Glen), Emmett (Teri), Kate (Frank) and Ellen (Barb) as well as nieces, nephews, and brother-in-law Ron (Irene). He was preceded in death by his parents, Jean and Sully, grandmother, Mate Bittner and sister, Sarah. Finally, Tom is preceded in death by parents-in-law, Harold and Dorothy Nakasone, and brothers-in-law, Roy and Carl.

An informal gathering of family and friends will take place at Lakeside St. Coffee House in Madison on October 21st from 3–6 PM. In lieu of memorials or flowers, the next time you are enjoying pizza or nigiri sushi (his favorite foods) with a good beer, give a toast to Tom. 

Cress East Washington


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Service Schedule

Past Services

Celebration of Life

Saturday, October 21, 2023

3:00 - 6:00 pm (Central time)

Lakeside St. Coffee House

402 W Lakeside St, Madison, WI 53715

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