Thomas G. Early Was Active in Government

Thomas G. Early died at his home in West Tisbury on Feb. 4, 11 days shy of his 98th birthday. The immediate cause was pneumonia, but he had been in increasingly poor health over the last several years.

Tom was born in Fargo, N.D., on Feb. 15, 1905 in the Washington Hotel, a Fargo landmark that his family owned and operated along with a nearby livery stable. He was the fifth of six children born to William J. and Alice Collins Early.

Though he had begun his college studies at North Dakota University in North Fargo, Tom's summer employer encouraged him to seek admission to Yale University, where he began his college education over again. Never a great student, he was distracted by rowing with the crew and working multiple campus jobs to earn money for his college expenses. When the freshman dean threatened to send him home for poor academic performance after his first semester, Tom explained that he did not have enough money to get home and that it was too cold to walk back to North Dakota in the winter. The dean relented; Tom received his B.A. in 1931. Tom later went on to earn a master's degree in economics from the University of Pittsburgh (1933) while serving as the assistant to the head of the University's business program, and an L.L.B. from Georgetown University School of Law (1941) while working on a series of positions in the Department of Commerce aimed at assisting small businesses.

He served as Secretary of the Civil Aeronautics Board (precursor to the Federal Aviation Administration) in Washington, D.C., and was deeply involved in the building of Washington National Airport, now Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, which opened in 1941. The week after the airport opened, he was recruited by General William J. "Wild Bill" Donovan to handle administration during the formation of the Coordinator of Information (COI) office in Washington, D.C. General Donovan was creating the United States' first international intelligence operation, later called the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency. During World War II, Tom rose through the ranks to colonel as he served under General Donovan on OSS operations in Northern Africa and Italy. He was awarded the Legion of Merit in 1945 for his role in organizing a rescue of downed American and Allied airmen from Switzerland and France.

Tom and his wife, Virginia (née Flannery), of Washington, D.C., married in 1944. Shortly after their wedding, she accompanied him to San Francisco, Calif., where he was assigned to help set up the United Nations Conference on International Organization which drew up the United Nations Charter, signed by 50 countries.

For most of his post-war business career, Tom was president of his own company, Hi-Temp Liquid Heating Corporation, in New York city. He was a manufacturer's representative for hot water heating equipment used in large-scale projects like hospitals, prisons and educational campuses including the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. A veteran of early passenger flight, Tom criss-crossed the nation and visited nearly every one of the 48 contiguous states by the early 1950s.

From 1948 until 1978, Tom and Virginia Early made their home in Old Greenwich, Conn., where they raised their family of five children. Tom was active in community affairs including the Greenwich Chamber of Commerce, of which he served as president and chairman of the board in the early 1960s.

Tom was a regular seasonal visitor to Martha's Vineyard beginning in 1943. His wife's family had acquired a home on Seven Gates Farm in 1924 and it served as the family's summer home until Tom and Virginia moved there year-round in 1978. Before a stroke brought an end to his active involvement in the Vineyard community, he served on the board of the Martha's Vineyard Hospital and on its quality assurance committee. He was also involved in efforts to alleviate the Island's solid waste disposal challenges. An accomplished woodworker, he took great pleasure in repairing and restoring antique furniture.

In addition to his wife, Tom is survived by his sons, John G. Early of West Tisbury and Thomas G. Early Jr. of Cedaredge, Colo., and his wife, Connie (Nelson); his daughters, Alice C. Early of Chilmark, Elizabeth E. Sheehan of Deering, N.H., and her husband, John, and Margaret H. Early of Cambridge and her husband, David Sykes, and children, Charlotte and Henderson. He is also survived by his niece, Anne Burns of Cos Cob, Conn., and her husband, Kevin; his nephew, Charles A. deGeofroy of Chilmark and his wife, Sarah Kuh, and children Maury, Alex, Andrew and Sofia; and his nephew, Louis F. deGeofroy of West Tisbury and his wife, Karen Overtoom, and their daughters, Olivia and Michelle. Tom is also survived by his sister, Alice E. Shiels of Fargo, N.D., and a number of nieces and nephews.

Donations in Tom's memory may be made to The Martha's Vineyard Hospital, Windemere Nursing and Rehabilitation Center and the Up-Island Council on Aging.