1435 Morris Avenue - Suite 3A, Union, NJ 07083
Tim Haresign, President

In Memoriam - Tom Wirth
Long Time Council Senior
Staff Representative

It is with great sorrow that the Council announces the death of Thomas H. Wirth, who served as Council Staff Representative and Senior Council Staff Representative for 26 years, from 1974 to 2000. He died on October 10th at age 76 from respiratory failure.

Tom was among the original faculty members of Stockton State College upon its founding in September 1971. He became the first President of Local 2275 and served in this capacity until he was denied reappointment in 1973, most likely because of his union activity.

Stockton’s loss was the AFT’s and the Council’s gain. Immediately after his non-reappointment, Tom was hired by the AFT as National Representative and spent the next year participating in faculty organizing campaigns in Hawaii and Vermont. During his long and productive career at the Council, he represented the Council at grievance hearings and arbitrations, took an active role in every facet of contract negotiations and in the planning and execution of two strikes, edited the VOICE, performed research and functioned as an advisor and confidante to every Council President from Marco Lacatena to Donald Silberman and Nicholas Yovnello as well as mentoring many staff representatives including Barbara Hoerner (retired), Bennett Muraskin and Debra Davis. He was widely recognized and respected as one of the most if not the most knowledgeable authority on public higher education in our state. His two major studies of higher education policy in NJ were published by the Council as booklets: Management of Decline or Bridge to the Future: Preparing the New Jersey State Colleges for the 1990s (1989) and New Jersey State College Tuition Policy: Shifting Costs to Students (1992). Based on primary research, they are all too accurate forecasts of the State’s failure to plan and fund for the future.

Tom was also an independent scholar of the Harlem Renaissance. He founded the FIRE!! Press in 1982 that re-printed the one and only issue of the literary journal FIRE!! featuring contributions from major figures of the Harlem Renaissance. It has since been used as a text in African American studies courses at many colleges and universities. FIRE!! Press also published new works by African American authors.

After his retirement, he edited and provided the introduction to an anthology of the writings and drawings of Richard Bruce Nugent, titled Gay Rebel of the Harlem Renaissance, with a forward by Henry Louis Gates. It was published by Duke University in 2002 to excellent reviews. Tom befriended Nugent, an important figure of the Harlem Renaissance, and became his literary executor. Tom was also a major collector of books by African American authors, which he donated to various university libraries, including those at Yale and Emory. At the time of his death, Tom was editor of the Countee Cullen Correspondence Online Project of the Amistad Research Center in New Orleans.

Tom was born in 1938 in Fargo, North Dakota and grew up in Columbus, Ohio and Syracuse, New York. He earned a BS in chemistry at Cornell University and a PhD in the same field from Cal Tech in 1964. Before joining the Stockton faculty, he taught chemistry at South Carolina State College, Southern University and Mary Holmes Junior College, institutions that served a predominantly Black student population.

In his later years, Tom edited the newsletter of Men of All Colors Together (MACT), a multi-racial, multi-cultural organization of gay and bisexual men committed to addressing and combating racial discrimination in the lesbian and gay male community.

He visited the Council office on many occasions and was always a welcome presence. We will miss him.

Tom had a brilliant mind and great personal integrity. As a teacher, unionist, social activist, scholar and bibliophile, he has left his mark and will be long remembered.

The Council extends its condolences to his godson Robert Figueroa, his sister Kathyrn Hansen and his brother John Wirth.