In Memoriam: Thomas W. Murnane

Former senior vice president’s flair for fundraising helped transform Tufts

Funeral services were held on March 26 in Marblehead, Mass., for Thomas W. Murnane, who, as senior vice president for development at Tufts, worked alongside President Jean Mayer to engineer an unprecedented era of growth for the university. Murnane, who held four degrees from Tufts, died on March 20 following a lengthy illness; he was 77.

Murnane, A58, D62, DG65, G68, J97P, arrived at Tufts in 1954 as a first-year undergraduate, and stayed at the university for almost 50 years, except for a year-long NIH fellowship at the Medical College of Virginia. In addition to a B.S., he earned a D.M.D. and a postgraduate certificate in oral and maxillofacial surgery from Tufts School of Dental Medicine and a Ph.D. from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

Thomas W. Murnane helped raise $1 billion for Tufts during his tenure. Photo: Richard HowardThomas W. Murnane helped raise $1 billion for Tufts during his tenure. Photo: Richard Howard
In 1977, Jean Mayer tapped Murnane, then associate dean of the School of Dental Medicine, to be the pivot for establishing a veterinary school in New England, which had been without an accredited veterinary school for 75 years. The Mayer-Murnane partnership was an intriguing one—an internationally known nutritionist who was a hero of the French Resistance and a dentist who had an abiding love for Tufts and a knack for raising lots of money.

“The synergy between the nutrition president and dentist was immediate and explosive,” said Sol Gittleman, the Alice and Nathan Gantcher University Professor who served as Tufts’ provost during much of the tenures of both men. “There was an instant bond of trust,” Gittleman said. “Who could have guessed that Tom Murnane had those special gifts to raise money that Jean Mayer had been looking for?”

Regional politics and financial pressures made the veterinary school assignment a difficult one—compounded by the fact that Mayer wanted a school that did more than train clinicians to care for pets. “Tom looked for donors and politicians, walked the halls of the state house, got the politicians on the Tufts side and then went after the North Shore horse set and anyone else who loved pets,” Gittleman said.

When the school opened on the site of the former Grafton State Hospital in 1979, there was already a vision in place for the 1990s and beyond that included research goals and programs in international veterinary medicine, animal nutrition, equine medicine, toxicology, public health, agriculture and the environment. All those elements are now part of the enterprise known as the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts.

Before joining Mayer’s leadership team, Murnane taught at the medical and dental schools and served as acting dean of the dental school from 1971 to 1972, when he was named the school’s associate dean.

In 1979, he was appointed vice president for development and spearheaded the most ambitious fundraising campaign in Tufts history, bringing in $145 million in just five years—a goal many had said was unattainable for a small private liberal arts college. He was promoted to senior vice president in 1985.

Murnane headed another successful campaign, this one for $240 million, before Jean Mayer stepped down in 1991. Under President John DiBiaggio, Murnane and the University Advancement Division completed a $600 million campaign.

“All together, Tom Murnane had his fingerprints on every one of the one billion dollars Tufts raised before he retired in 2003,” Gittleman said.

Outside of Tufts, Murnane was dedicated to his family and to the ocean. On any given weekend he would be out on his boat, Ah Mais, cruising the coast of the North Shore and enjoying his membership at the Corinthian Yacht Club in Marblehead. When he was not on the water, he was in his garden or traveling the world with his wife, Jan, on behalf of Tufts.

Besides his wife of 48 years, he is survived by a son, Timothy; two daughters, Tracey Murnane and Melissa Murnane Scorzoni, J97; and five grandchildren. He also leaves two sisters, Joyce Gelzer, J64, and MaryLou Murnane.

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