Colleagues and other friends are recalling the intellectual depth, passion for student learning and kindness of Thomas G. “Tom” McFadden, college librarian emeritus.
McFadden, who directed Schaffer Library from 1997 until his retirement in 2012, passed away on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017. He was 71.
“Tom was always eager to help anyone in need -- for example, buying textbooks for kids who could not afford them or helping international students with food and supplies,” said Anastasia Pease, senior lecturer in English, who regarded McFadden as a mentor. “He was a passionate promoter of liberal arts education, a wise adviser, a great mentor. He worked tirelessly to help students learn and excel. Despite his gruff exterior, Tom was a very kind and tenderhearted man. During the winter holidays, small children often took him for an undercover Santa Claus, and he played along.”
Librarian Annette LeClair fondly recalls the time that McFadden played the Ghost of Christmas Present in a staged reading of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. “The role suited Tom perfectly,” LeClair said. “This was his favorite time of year, but he was a giver who gave all year long. I can still hear Tom’s laugh as he read the line, ‘You have never seen the like of me before!’ We’d never seen anyone like Tom before either; he was a unique, memorable presence among us, and his ghost will remain with us in the best of ways.”
Besides directing the library, McFadden taught a number of first-year preceptorials: Politics and the Novel; Great Ideas; and Utopias, Dystopias, and Totalitarianism. An enthusiast of College history who collected books and memorabilia, he also taught a sophomore research seminar on Union College and Higher Education in the 19th Century. He revived and coached the Debate Club and served as a faculty mentor to the Ethics Bowl team. He was a member of the Academic Computing and Technology Steering Committee.
Tom donated to Special Collections about 100 rare books from his collection of mostly 18th century texts, including foundational works on science, philosophy, history, and education, according to LeClair. These materials are used to help connect students to the Enlightenment period and to the era of the College’s founding, she said. He also produced the 1998 facsimile edition of the 1802 Laws of Union College, for which he wrote an introduction explaining why Union was “an ideal well fit for its time.”
Born in Boise, Idaho, he was the son of the late Elmer and Anne (McDonell) McFadden.
He was a proud member of the Idaho State High School Debate Championship Team. He completed his undergraduate studies at the College of Idaho, then was a Rhodes Scholar at Worcester College, Oxford University. He earned his master’s in philosophy from Brown University and a master’s of library science from the University of Pittsburgh.
Before Union, he held librarian positions at Rochester Institute of Technology; Brown University; the University of California, Davis; and Northern Arizona University. In retirement, he briefly served as library director at Union Graduate College.
Survivors include his wife of 30 years, Marguerite “Maggie” Horn; nine sisters- and brothers-in-law; and a number of nieces and nephews.
Calling hours will be Tuesday, Dec. 19, from 3 to 6 p.m. at New Comer Cremations & Funerals, 343 New Karner Road, Colonie.