In Memoriam: Thomas Phillip Wolf

In Memoriam: Thomas Phillip Wolf

by Donley StudlarWest Virginia University and East Tennessee State University

The world lost an admirable teacher, administrator, scholar, and communicator when Thomas Phillip Wolf died on October 1, 2019 at age 86. Tom spent almost a half century as a faculty member, primarily at Indiana University, Southeast, and the University of New Mexico, fully engaged in the various dimensions of academic life.

Tom was an old school guy. Born in Kansas, he was a high school cross-country track and wrestling star. After he spent a year at Wichita State, the Korean War broke out. He joined the US Marine Corps in 1951 and served eleven months of combat duty in the Korean War, rising in rank from private to sergeant. Into the twenty-first century, he still sported a sticker on his car bumper, “I remember Korea.” In 1953, he married his best friend’s sister, Ellie. This 61-year relationship ended only with her death in 2014. They raised three children. After working for Beech Aircraft, he returned to Wichita State. He was attracted to the natural sciences, but a required course on political science had a lifelong impact in steering his career path. Later as a teacher, he sometimes wore a white lab coat to class to emphasize the scientific basis of the discipline. After graduating with a BA in 1959, he won a Woodrow Wilson fellowship for graduate work at Stanford. Achieving an MA (1961) and a PhD (1967), he accepted an appointment at the University of New Mexico in 1963.

Tom’s scholarly interests were in Comparative Politics generally, especially political leadership, British and Japanese politics, and aspects of American Politics, including the presidency, political parties, public opinion, and interest groups. One of his summer hobbies was to tour US Presidential memorials. Tom began publishing scholarly works in the 1960s, and for several years contributed on New Mexico topics in books and journals, notably the Western Political Quarterly’s annual edition on elections in Western states. Later, much of his work in various journals and books was on Comparative Politics. Spending much of his career at a small undergraduate institution, Tom was called upon to be a generalist, and his research in journals and books followed this pattern.

In 1970, he had the opportunity to move to Indiana University, Southeast. For the next 29 years he served in several capacities there, including associate and full professor, chair of social sciences, and later dean of the school. He “retired” in 1999 but continued to teach courses part-time at IUS and other campuses in the region. An article on him in the Louisville Courier-Journal (July 13, 2000) was entitled, “Professor emeritus still loves profession: Retired IUS dean still making time for his students.”

Tom participated in a variety of professional organizations, including the APSA, the MPSA, the Indiana Academy of Social Sciences, and others. But probably his favorite was the British Politics Group. Tom’s interest in Britain was quickened in 1983 when he attended all of the annual party conferences in that country and met Jorgen Rasmussen, then Executive Secretary of the BPG. When I succeeded Rasmussen as Executive Secretary in 1994, I appointed Tom as Editor of the BPG Newsletter (later BPG Quarterly), in that early internet age an important mode of communication between developments in the UK and the BPG’s worldwide, especially US-based, membership. Tom took up the job with alacrity, and, with the aid of his administrative assistant Brigitte Adams, produced a substantial printed publication for years, eventually transitioning into the digital age. Tom was a meticulous but patient editor and wrote much of the copy himself, including book reviews, which he loved to do. At that time Tom’s role in the BPG, especially his work with the Newsletter/Quarterly, was key to keeping the organization cohesive.

Tom Wolf was an affable, soft-spoken, and compassionate man who worked well with others. He was one of those people who contribute to an organization in many quiet ways but always with enthusiasm and a cooperative spirit. We can use more like him.