In Memoriam: Thomas A. Fogarty

He was the man you'd want at your dinner party — or the reporter you'd want next to you as you sat through another long night of boring debate in the Iowa Senate.  He was the consummate story teller — in print and in person. Tom's vivid accounts of the grand and not-so-grand moments in life made the day brighter with the shared laughter that followed every punchline.

Tom Fogarty — a friend, colleague, and mentor — died Tuesday night.  Since then I've been "talking" (via email) with a number of folks who have been part of the Iowa statehouse press corps and who were enriched by Tom's candor, grace and wit.

"Tom was such a class act," Eric Stern, a former statehouse reporter for The Waterloo Courier, wrote in an email today.  "He was one of those fatherly, steady old-timers that made newspapering so friggin' cool."

In Tom's defense, he wasn't that old.  Stern, though, was very young and in his first real job after college.  Tom, writing under the byline Thomas A. Fogarty, worked for The Des Moines Register from 1985 to 1999. 

Todd Dorman, a columnist for The Cedar Rapids Gazette, covered the Iowa Senate for The Sioux City Journal toward the end of Fogarty's statehouse tenure.  "He was a great guy with a wicked sense of humor, and very helpful to a young, clueless pup like me," Dorman wrote this morning in an email.

I will admit to being a young, clueless pup at the statehouse when Fogarty was first installed as a statehouse correspondent for The Register.  I learned a lot from Tom, particularly about looking at the big picture.  One of his stories — at the conclusion of a legislative session long ago — perfectly tied together the host of probusiness bills which had passed, with a lede something like this:  "It wasn't just business as usual at the Iowa Legislature this year.  It was business more than usual."

For those of you who aren't familiar with Tom's career, in 1985 Tom came to The Register from the Lincoln Journal where he had covered Nebraska's Unicameral and state government.  After a short stint covering city government in Des Moines, Tom was on duty covering the Iowa House of Representatives for The Register.  A few years later Tom moved to cover the Iowa Senate.

As I struggle to explain Tom's role in the midst of our "herd" of statehouse reporters, I will resort to a quote from the late journalist Hugh Sidey, a Greenfield, Iowa native who spent most of his career working for Time magazine. "A sense of humor…is needed armor," Sidey once said. "Joy in one's heart and some laughter on one's lips is a sign that the person down deep has a pretty good grasp of life."

Tom had that sense of humor and the spark of intellect which captivated an audience when he was telling a story. None of us can forget Tom's tale of falling asleep while writing a story about the 1984 Democratic National Convention for the Lincoln paper. The drool-induced computer meltdown Tom described sent us into gales of laughter.

Tom found hilarity in the mundane.  His own race for the Holy Trinity Catholic Church parish council was a riveting treatise about votes uncast and uncounted.  Tom marveled at his wife's ability to judge the difference between a triple toe loop and a Salchow as they watched The Winter Olympics together.  In 1997, Tom coined the phrase "21st century haircut" to illustrate how a certain senator might improve his appearance.

Tom was also the first person I knew who "Googled" himself.  His Internet search to find others who shared his name yielded a link to the surgeon who invented the Fogarty clamp and bought a California vineyard.  Tom once gave me the gift of two bottles of Thomas Fogarty Gerwertztraminer.  I wish I had one of those bottles tonight.

Tom was reassigned to the business beat at The Register after the 1998 election and he left the paper to join USA Today in 1999 (if you click on that link it will take you to one of Tom's stories).  I happened to be visiting Tom and his wife, Suzi, in their home in Vienna, Virginia, a few years ago on the night Tom came home from work and announced he'd been named an editor at the paper.  We celebrated with a shared meal, stories and laughter.

I invite you to share your own Fogarty memories by posting a comment.  Here is the obituary which is posted on The Des Moines Register website.  UPDATE:  here is the obituary which is posted on The Washington Post website.

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.


  1. Bill Menner says

    Tom and I talked about connecting each year when I would take a Poweshiek County delegation to Washington for meetings with members and staff. Our schedules never meshed.
    Tom was one of the greatest storytellers I knew. He had mastered the art — which is probably why he was such a gifted journalist. But he could have you in tears for an extended time as he wove the narrative of the story.
    I’ve spent the morning trying to recall a story he told once about an encounter with Tom Brokaw — I suspect there was alcohol involved at the time of the tale, which may explain my fogginess. But that story underscored the respect Tom had from his peers– even the anchor for NBC Nightly News.
    He asked hard questions but was never impolite or mean-spirited. He was smart and understood government, politics, economics, people…
    I wish our schedules had been such that we could have had that drink during one of those DC visits.

  2. I had the privilege to work alongside Tom at USA TODAY. I am even more privileged to be able to say that he was my friend.
    Tom could engage a reader in a story and he could engage a friend in passing in a hallway. Some people have a ray of light around them; Tom was one of those people. Even on the days with tightest of deadlines and the fiercest of pressure, Tom could make me smile and put the day in perspective. His words were sharp and so was his wit.
    Great newspapermen are dwindling in number. But their stories and their words last forever. I won’t forget Tom.

  3. I worked (and played) with Tom at the Journal in Lincoln and we kept in more or less regular touch in the years that followed as we both moved elsewhere – me sinking as low one point to being Ed Anger at the Weekly World News and him to USA Today.
    His like will not be seen again, I’m afraid. Thank you for posting this. I just discovered it and it revived some old memories (computer drool meltdown – a Fogarty classic!) and gave me some new Tom glimpses.