YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (MyValleyTributes) – Beloved husband, father, grandfather, brother, uncle, cherished colleague and friend, Thomas Edward McGunigal, passed away peacefully on Friday, July 1, 2022. He was 85 years old.
Thomas “Tom” was born on January 31, 1937, in Youngstown, Ohio to John and Florence (Kelly) McGunigal. He joined big brother John “Mac”, who immediately took Tom under his wing and the two fostered a lifelong deep friendship. When his younger sister, Joyce, was born almost nine years later, Tom relished the joy of getting to be a big brother himself.
In addition to his immediate family, Tom was also very close with his extended McGunigal and Kelly relatives. Early on it was clear that Tom had a sharp mind and an eager curiosity. He learned to read at the tender age of three and announced the newspaper headline to family when Pearl Harbor was attacked. After graduating from Ursuline High School, Tom became the first in his family to go to college by attending John Carroll University, where he graduated with a Master’s Degree in Physics and minored in Philosophy.
His lifelong love of learning and religious faith was deepened by the Jesuits’ approach to education. During his college years, Tom commuted back to Youngstown on weekends to work at the steel mill where his father was a foreman, to help pay his way through school.
Also, during this time, Tom met the love of his life – Deanna Dreiling – during a summer trip to Lake Erie, where he had the good fortune to sit next to his future wife during a boat ride. Deanna’s friendly, outgoing personality paired with Tom’s quiet intellect and thoughtfulness and their mutual deep faith and love of family created a bond that nourished them over 60 years of marriage.
After Tom and Deanna were married on June 13, 1959, they headed to Washington, D.C. where he launched his remarkable aerospace career at NASA while attending Georgetown Law classes at night.
He also became a father to Thomas “Tom”, Michael “Mike” and Mary Deanna “Mary D.”, during these busy early years of their marriage.
While he didn’t end up pursuing a career in patent law, he did pass the bar to leave the option open!. Tom’s decision to “stick with his day job” and pursue aerospace was a crucial one. His contributions to this field over the next 40 years were instrumental in not only impacting the lives of millions of people but even more importantly saving countless lives around the world.
Tom was at the leadership helm as a program manager for not one but several, groundbreaking satellite programs. One of his most cherished accomplishments was the Cospas-Sarsat Search and Rescue program, which he led starting in 1979. It was the only good-will humanitarian project between the U.S. and the USSR during the Cold War, with Canada and France involved as well. Between standing in front of Congress to make the case for the life-saving benefits these satellites would bring, traveling around the world to solve an incredibly complex technological problem and navigating a potentially internationally fraught situation — Tom truly brought together his love of scientific progress and innovation with this program and harnessed it to help people.
During this time, Tom and Deanna also continued to add to their family with the birth of Margaret “Peggy”, Elizabeth “Betty Ann” and Katherine “Kate”. He was especially fond of remarking how all the even numbered kids (2nd, 4th and 6th) were all redheads!
Tom was a true Renaissance man, who enjoyed many interests and hobbies throughout his life, from developing photographs to grooming horses as a teen; from being the ace pitcher on the NASA Goddard “RF Chokes” softball team after countless hours of practice with buckets of balls in the backyard, to beekeeping, farming and growing every type of vegetable; from raising cattle to paragliding; from visiting state capitals to boating on the Chesapeake; from buying/fixing cars to shooting skeet; from helping his grandchildren with science fair projects to giving them tractor rides; from making customized Hallmark cards for birthdays to (last but not least!) being an avid sports fan.
Even with the successes of his incredible career and enjoyment of his varied interests, Tom’s proudest accomplishments were his long-lasting marriage to Deanna, his growing family of in-laws and grandkids and his unwavering Catholic faith. Before the days of Google or Wikipedia, his kids were lucky to have a dad who seemed to have an endless knowledge of the world. He would often pull out his ever-present pen and scribble on a napkin to help illustrate a complex concept and make it easier for others to understand. He also led by example to demonstrate to his kids the value of hard work and living life with integrity. He would come home from a full day of work and go out to mow the lawn or work in the garden on his beloved 20-acre piece of paradise in Clarksville MD, which he named “Walnut Creek”.
Tom’s faith was part of every moment of his life. While he didn’t quote Bible passages, he lived a devout life going to Mass faithfully every Sunday; including 46 years at St. Louis Parish in Clarksville. Even if he was camping or visiting the Soviet Union, he made sure to find a Mass.
In his final years he was devoted to taking care of his wife and then valiantly facing his own bout with Parkinson’s. It was not an easy road, but when he was forgetting other things, he remembered prayers and loved singing at Mass. Even in the most difficult days when he couldn’t express other thoughts, he always remembered to say thank you and let us know how much he loved us. This final example for his family is the greatest lesson he taught us all.
Tom left behind a lasting legacy, not just for his family and loved ones, but for the world. If you get a chance to visit the Air & Space Museum at Udvar Hazy in Dulles, Virginia, make sure to look up at that beautiful gold TDRS satellite above the Discovery shuttle. Or the next time you board a plane or boat, know that because of the Cospas-Sarsat satellite system you will be found if anything goes wrong, no matter where you are. Or when you look at the weather forecast – know that these forecasts would be far less accurate without Tom McGunigal overhauling the GOES satellite program. Thank you Dad, for everything! We love you!
Tom will be deeply missed by his sibling, Joyce Kester and children, Tom (Trish) McGunigal, Mike (Donna) McGunigal, Mary (James) Briody, Peggy (Bob) States, Betty Ann (Mike) Linegang and Kate (Lev) Pevzner. He also leaves behind grandchildren, Lisa (Ted) Dorris, Mary McGunigal, Jennifer (Justin) Szarkowicz, Kevin and Sean McGunigal, Jill, James and Michael Briody, Patrick States, Aidan, Emily and Ryan Linegang and Olive Pevzner (13th grandkid!); sisters-in-law, Margie (Dreiling) Rochford and Pat McGunigal; brothers-in-law, Cor Kester and Otto Dreiling and many beloved nieces and nephews who will all cherish memories of him forever.
Besides his parents, Florence and Mac and his wife,Deanna, Tom was preceded in death by brother, John “Mac” McGunigal; brother-in-law, Tom Rochford and sister-in-law, JoAnn Dreiling.
The family would like to express their gratitude and thanks for the tremendous love and support from Tom’s beloved relatives, friends of the family and the kind caregivers (Gloria’s team of angels!) during his final years and days.
In lieu of flowers, please send memorial donations to either St Louis Parish, 12500 Clarksville Pike, Clarksville, MD 21029 (mailed or Online Giving at https://osvhub.com/stlouisparish/giving/funds; select Give Now and enter Thomas McGunigal in Notes) or The Parkinson’s Foundation (https://www.parkinson.org/ways-to-give; select Donate and Tribute Gift) in Thomas McGunigal’s name.
On Sunday, July 17, 2022 the family is having a celebration of Thomas McGunigal’s life at a wake 2:00 – 4:00 p.m. at Donaldson’s Funeral Home, 12540 Clarksville Pike, Clarksville, MD 21029.
On Monday, July 18, 2022, at 11:00 a.m. a Funeral Mass will be held at St. Louis Catholic Church, 12500 Clarksville Pike, Clarksville, MD 21029, followed by interment at St. Louis Cemetery, 5950 Ten Oaks Road, Clarksville, MD 21029.
The family will be hosting a luncheon immediately following at the St. Louis Parish Hall, 12500 Clarksville Pike, Clarksville, MD 21029.
A television tribute will air Monday, July 18 at the following approximate times: 5:17 a.m. on WKBN, 8:39 a.m. on FOX, 5:21 p.m. on WYTV and 6:35 p.m. on MyYTV.