MADISON – Thomas Joseph McCormick, Jr., emeritus professor of history at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, passed away on July 25 at the age of 87. Tom earned his Ph.D. at UW–Madison in 1960, after receiving his Master's in History at the University of Cincinnati. Following teaching assignments at Ohio University and the University of Pittsburgh, Tom returned to UW–Madison in 1970, succeeding William Appleman Williams in the ground-breaking work of the Wisconsin School of Diplomatic History, furthered as well by his dear friends, Walter LaFeber (Sandy) at Cornell University and Lloyd Gardner (Nancy) at Rutgers University. Using a world-systems approach, this school of thought engaged the dynamics of hegemony to analyze U.S. involvement in world affairs.
Tom was a Woodrow Wilson Center Fellow and Distinguished Fulbright Lecturer at University College Dublin, among other laudatory assignments, and he gave guest lectures and keynote addresses at worldwide conferences, including several in Japan hosted by former student and dear friend Takeshi Matsuda (Keiko). Tom authored and co-authored six books, including the well-received China Market: America’s Quest for Informal Empire 1893–1901 (Quadrangle Books) and America’s Half-Century: United States Foreign Policy in the Cold War (John Hopkins Press). Dozens of his articles appeared in leading scholarly journals, and his name appears frequently in the footnotes of other historians’ works.
Tom was born in Cincinnati (St. Bernard), Ohio during the Great Depression. He lived with his parents, sister, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins in a large house built by his grandfather. His father was a talented tool and die maker and his mother worked as an office manager.
Blessed with a fine sense of humor to augment his enviable intellect, Tom enjoyed the loyalty of numerous admirers, including many students who named him as their favorite professor. He was awarded special honors, including “Mr. Bearcat” and the “McKibben Medal of Manliness” when he attended the University of Cincinnati, where he delivered the 1955 commencement address.
Tom’s love of history began when he was a young boy sitting at the kitchen table where his grandpa read newspapers to him and discussed current events. Tom decided to pursue a degree in history due to the influence of his high school history teacher, Ralph Nieman. Mr. Nieman also sang at the wedding where Tom married his high school sweetheart and true love, Jeri.
Tom might say his greatest achievement was to gather up the courage to ask Jeri on a date after admiring her for several months from afar. They had a love story written in the stars, sharing a bond that couples dream about—a perfect pair (Tom & Jeri). They celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary in June. A lover of music, Tom played saxophone and clarinet in a jazz band during his high school years and became an admirer of John Coltrane and Miles Davis among other jazz greats. He was a knowledgeable sports fan all his life—following a variety of sports and teams. In high school, he was captain of the basketball team and ran track. He also loved sharing long conversations about the past and present world with his friend Frank Sicliano (Lennie), doing crossword puzzles in coffee shops (thank you Sequoia EVP), reading mysteries, imbibing Irish culture, spending time with his children and grandchildren, and adoring Jeri.
Although there are too many friends to list by name, we would like to acknowledge a few who preceded Tom in death and whom he loved dearly. They are: Professors Stanley Kutler (Sandy), Maurie Meisner (Lynn Lubkeman), Frank Kofsky (Bonnie), and Camden Coberly (Lenore). We would also like to recognize the important influence of Tom’s students. Several became a part of our family and he built life-long friendships with others. He was proud of them all.
Tom is preceded in death by his beloved sister Jean Christman (Don); his parents Thomas J. McCormick, Sr., and Ethel Brown McCormick; special cousin Jack; and many friends over time, who contributed to his love of life. He is survived by his wife, Jeri; his children, Michael (Laura), Elin Malliet (Dan), and Amy Kittleson (Brian); granddaughters Rachael McCormick, Erin McCormick (Cooper Stone), and Abigail Kittleson; brothers-in-law, Cliff Dixon (Maria) and Don Christman (Denise); nieces, Sharon and Donna; nephew, Todd; cousin, Marjorie; as well as several grand nieces and nephews.
Tom fought a long and courageous battle with congestive heart failure. After many hospitalizations, he garnered the strength to return home where he left this world surrounded by his loving family, who cared for him with the support of Agrace Hospice and Age at Home. The family acknowledges the contributions of the dedicated health workers along Tom's journey, with special thanks to the caregivers at Agrace Hospice. Contributions to Agrace will be much appreciated. A memorial service will be held at a later date to be determined.
Tom lived a wonderful life and is our hero. Here's to you Tom, "Oh, Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling. From glen to glen, and down the mountain side. The summer's gone, and all the roses falling, It's you, it's you must go and I must bide."
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