Discovering the New Frontier with Tom Tate ’56

An alumnus' desire to be a part of something greater than himself leads him to the stars.

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The winds of change were blowing all across America in 1956. On The Ed Sullivan Show, 60 million viewers watched Elvis Presley sing and dance his way from their living rooms into legend. In Montgomery, Alabama, Martin Luther King’s leadership of the Montgomery Bus Boycott helped usher in the Civil Rights Movement. And, in Scranton, Pennsylvania, a young Tom Tate ’56 graduated from the University eager to become a part of something extraordinary.

At Scranton, Tate had been a member of the ROTC and had played on the baseball team as the Tomcats/Royals starting catcher under legendary coach Peter Carlesimo.

“The Jesuits taught me, and continue to teach current students, to look beyond what is in front of them,” he said. “My Jesuit education provided character building and self-discipline with rigorous leadership training from the military sciences.”

After earning his bachelor’s in marketing, Second Lieutenant Tate reported to Fort Bliss in Texas for anti-aircraft artillery and guided missile training. After completing his term of military service, Tate began working on a classified project developing missile and surface radar at Radio Corporation of America (RCA) in New Jersey for the United States Air Force’s Ballistic Missile Early Warning System.

Inspired by President Kennedy’s “Moonshot” speech, he drove to California to find work in the new frontier of the space industry and landed a job at the Space Division of Rockwell International.

While at Rockwell, he met Arlene Johnson, a NASA employee in Edwards Air Force Base’s flight test program, and the couple married soon after. Tate rose to the position of director of Space Operations Pioneering at Rockwell, where he helped develop ground-breaking technology for the Gemini Paraglider, Apollo, Apollo/Soyuz, and Space Shuttle programs. He also found the time to earn his J.D.

In 1973, Tate began working as a technical consultant and counsel to the House Subcommittee on Space Science and Applications. He spent the next 15 years in Washington, D.C., procuring government funding for space exploration. Tate went on to serve as vice president of the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), a trade association representing 54 companies that manufacture aerospace and military flight equipment. The University bestowed the Frank J. O’Hara Award in Science and Technology upon him in 1991.

Tate resigned from AIA in 2003 when Arlene fell ill; when she died in 2013, many friends from their NASA and Rockwell days comforted him through her passing.

Tate’s legacy serves as a powerful reminder of where a Scranton degree can take you. Throughout his life, he demonstrated his love for the University in a number of ways, including securing notable speakers for Scranton’s commencements, bringing the Joseph M. McDade Congressional Papers Collection to the Weinberg Memorial Library, endowing The Tate Family Scholarship and choosing membership in The Estate Society.

“I know that with philanthropy comes promise and possibilities,” he said. “I want the next generation of explorers to receive a Catholic and Jesuit education that takes them to discovering their great frontier. Together, our support can redirect their future in ways unimagined.”

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