Tom Dolan Sr. ’62, MA.Ed. ’63, loved to tell the story of the time he arrived at Clark University to seek admission as a student. He’d completed two years at Holy Cross before interrupting his studies to serve in the U.S. military in California and Germany. On his return in 1960, a Holy Cross dean suggested that Clark actually might be a better fit for him.
Dolan immediately drove to campus, spied a student walking across the green, and asked for directions to the admissions office. “At Holy Cross, they would have led you by the hand to the office, or at least pointed out how to get there,” he recalled in a 2012 interview. “This student turned to me and said, ‘Why do you ask?’
“What a great question!”
His endless fascination with, and affection for, Clark and Clarkies led Tom Dolan to earn two degrees here and embark on a 42-year career that saw him become an indefatigable champion and inspired evangelist for the university — a legacy he continued adding to long after he’d retired in 2004. When he died last week at the age of 87, his loss was felt across generations of this community, many for whom he was the face and spirit of Clark.
As a student, he made the most of his time at Clark, which included earning varsity letters in baseball, tennis, and basketball, where his rugged build, competitive streak, and “sharp elbows” not only earned him the team captaincy but made him a one-man scarlet-and-white wrecking crew under the boards. That pugnacity would later help him successfully beat back cancer several times, persevering through the disease, surgery, and strength-sapping treatments.
After earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees (he later earned a law degree at Suffolk University), he joined the Clark admissions team and would go on to hold seven distinct jobs at the university, including leadership positions in admissions, alumni affairs, advancement, and the administration, capping his career as senior vice president. “When someone asks what I did at Clark,” he was fond of saying, “I usually say I held every job at the place except two: being president, and running the boiler room.”
His jobs meant traveling around the country and overseas with his late wife, Joan ’60, MA.Ed. ’74, to preach the Clark gospel and secure gifts that would prove essential to the university’s growth. He always took care to credit Joan’s calming and friendly presence for counteracting “my Irish malarkey” as he forged relationships and charmed donors from Worcester to Washington state — and anywhere else he believed needed an infusion of Clark goodwill. “Whenever we traveled to alumni events on behalf of Clark, it was Joan everyone loved to see. I’d walk into a room and people would start hiding their wallets,” he quipped. (The couple’s sons, Tom Jr. ’79 and Brian, MBA ’87, are, of course, both Clarkies.)
Among Dolan’s many accolades, the Clark athletic field house on Beaver Street was named for him and Joan, and he earned membership into the Clark Athletic Hall of Fame. He also enjoyed two “firsts.” He was the first member of the administration to be named an honorary member of the Clark faculty; and on the occasion of the 50th reunion of the Class of 1962 (whom he good-naturedly, and often, touted as “the greatest class in the history of Clark”), he was presented with the University’s first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award.
Over the years many shared their personal stories of Tom Dolan’s special relationships with Clark trustees, staff, students, and faculty — remembering his wit, his kindness, his positivity, and his unrelenting devotion to his alma mater. There were the “creampuff dinners” he and Joan hosted for students in their West Boylston home (so named for Joan’s homemade creampuff desserts), and his penchant for early-morning breakfasts to hash over Clark business with any and all takers of his invitations. He is also at the center of countless photos taken at Reunion celebrations, always smiling, his long arms slung around the shoulders of fellow Clarkies as they share the joy of the moment.
His classmate and longtime friend Barry Epstein ’62 noted that Tom insisted he was guided in life and career by the four things he held dearest: friends, faith, fortitude, and family.
Perhaps there’s one more “F” term to include in Tom Dolan’s mantra. The one inscribed on the seal of the institution that he couldn’t have loved any more deeply had he laid the bricks of Jonas Clark Hall himself. The one he always used to conclude the thousands of personal notes he wrote to thank Clarkies for their generosity, congratulate them on their successes, console them in their grief, and remind them of their enduring connection to Clark University.