Friday, August 19, 2022

Tom Coffey, who helped Washington win, wield power, dies at 77

     There's a first time for everything. I knew Tom Coffey, slightly, from Steve Neal's epic Friday afternoon luncheons at Gene & Georgetti, back in the day. He was among a cast of Chicago stalwarts that included Wayne Whalen, Jay Doherty and Michael Cooke. After Tom fell ill in July, he made overtures, wondering whether I might write his obituary. It did not seem a request that could be decently refused, particularly considering his role in city history.

     When too many white Chicagoans were turning against Harold Washington because of the color of his skin, Tom Coffey became a key supporter, working to elect Chicago’s first Black mayor because of the content of his character.
     Mr. Coffey eventually quit as a partner at Kirkland & Ellis and moved to the city to become Washington’s chief of intergovernmental affairs and one of the inner troika of trusted advisers running the mayor’s first administration. 
Tom Coffey
     He died Wednesday at his home in Hinsdale, surrounded by family. He was 77.
     “Tom, from his youngest days growing up, had a sense of social justice, a sense of commitment shown by his service in the Marine Corps,” said high school friend and Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin. “When you combine the tenacity of a Marine and the moral leadership of a social activist, you end up with a committed person like Tom Coffey. He was focused on getting to what was right.”
     Mr. Coffey went on to found Haymarket Public Strategies, a political consulting and government lobbying firm whose clients ranged from future U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun to future President Joe Biden.
     “It is easy to see why Mayor Washington has so much confidence in you,” Biden wrote to him in 1986.

     Thomas Patrick Coffey was born Sept. 11, 1944, the first child of John and Billie Coffey. His father was an official in the city’s economic development commission. Growing up in St. Thomas More Parish, 85th and Western, he graduated from Archbishop Quigley Preparatory Seminary.
     In 1966, he earned an English degree from Loras College, a Catholic, liberal arts school in Dubuque, Iowa. At Loras, he met Mary Alice Butler of Oak Park. They married in 1968.
     Mr. Coffey studied law at DePaul University, getting his law degree in 1968, a year many Americans were concentrating on avoiding the draft. Instead, he enlisted in the Marines, serving as a JAG lawyer stationed in Okinawa.

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  1. Another home run, Mr. S. But whatever else Mr. Coffey may have been...white, Irish, Catholic, DePaul grad, and lawyer...he was not a former Marine. There's no such thing as an ex-Marine. Once a Marine, always a Marine.

    A former Marine is a Marine Corps veteran who formerly served in an active or reserve capacity. But I've never met anyone who said, 'former Marine' and meant it in any disrespectful manner...unless they were referring to someone who had disgraced the Corps, such as Lee Harvey Oswald.

    Veterans have corrected me when I've used the term. A Marine is a Marine for life, they've told me. But what did I know? Back issues exempted me from service. My apologies if I'm repeating myself. This may have come up before.

  2. Yes, I know that, about the Marines. But it's what his friend said, so you will have to bring it up with her. As much a point of pride as it is, obviously, it doesn't merit my editing her remarks to whisk it out of view.

  3. Seem like a guy I would have liked to know...even if he was a jarhead (what Navy guys like to call Marines on occasion).


  4. Thank you. Tom Coffey was a mentor to me. He brought people together for the good of Chicago. He was supportive but made you bring your best game. He had confidence in my abilities before I did. He helped me do things early in my career when he worked for Harold Washington that have allowed me to work on every Presidential campaign since 1988. I have been able to take what I learned from him and work for democracy around the world. As Harold said, each one, teach one. Tom taught me and I tried to pass it on.


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