Thomas Charles Lovitt

Thomas Charles Lovitt died on June 25th. He was 82 years old. He was born in Hutchinson, Kansas on September 23, 1930 and grew up in Burrton, Kansas. He graduated from tom lovitt 038the University of Kansas in 1952, where he majored in music. In that same year he married Althea “Polly” Owen and enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. In their four service years they were stationed in Texas, Maryland, and Colorado. When discharged Tom enrolled at the Eastman School of Music. After a few months there he accepted positions as a trumpet player in the Kansas City Philharmonic and trumpet instructor at the Kansas City Conservatory. For two summers, in 1956 and 1957, he was the principal trumpet in the orchestra for the Santa Fe Opera Company. In 1960 he earned a master’s degree in music from the University of Kansas.


In 1962 Tom transitioned from music to special education. He taught for two years in North Kansas City, Missouri and at the University of Kansas Medical Center before receiving his doctorate in special education from the University Kansas in 1966. That year he accepted a position at the University of Washington and remained there until his retirement in 1997. Tom and Polly made many life-long friends among the faculty and students at the university. Through his work in education, Tom touched the lives of countless educators and children. Following his retirement he served as an advocate for neglected or abused children. He also assisted in a first grade class at Frost Elementary, where he was with the same teacher for 11 years. Tom joined the Salvation Army in 2006 and played cornet in their brass band. He loved the organization.


Polly, Tom’s wife of nearly 59 years, died in December 2010. In his last months Tom wrote the story of her life and established a scholarship in her honor at the University of Kansas, where she had graduated.


Tom is survived by his sister Jane (Richard) Lagasse of Conway, Arkansas and four children: Kathleen (Richard) in Tacoma, Mark (Sylvia) in Bothell, Bryan (Maria) in Bothell, and Dan (Beth) in Redmond.  Tom and Polly were grandparents to Ashli, Charlie, Carly, Laura, Rachel, and Rebekah and great-grandparents to Tommy, Gracie, Sofia, Arianna, Mikayla, and Lukas.


Donations in Tom’s memory may be made to The Salvation Army Seattle Temple Corps, 9501 Greenwood Ave N., Seattle, WA 98103 or the Polly Lovitt Music Scholarship, KU Endowment, P.O. Box 928, Lawrence, KS 66044.

13 Responses to “Thomas Charles Lovitt”

  • Kim Mazur says:

    Uncle Tom I will miss your spirit, you humor, your passion and the twinkle in you eye when you told a story.
    You and Polly were very very dear to me. I love you. I am going to miss you but I know you and Polly are together again. Please send my love to Daddy to while you are there. Love you!! Kimmie

  • Rich Owen says:

    Dear Cousin Tom, one of the most intelligent, compassionate and fun-loving persons I’ve ever known. Our family will remember you as long as we live. If there is an here-after, you are now reunited with your dear Polly. You two were on my “favorite people” list. I will think of you every February when we got your Christmas Letter!

  • gene edgar says:

    Tom Lovitt was a giant in the field of special education. His research has had a long effect on everyday practices in thousands of classrooms across the country and indeed the world. He mentors scores of doctoral students who continue his work. Tom was passionate advocate for public schools and spent countless hours in real schools. He modeled what a good professor should do. As important, Tom was a fine human being. He was kind yet brutally honest. He truly treated others, as he would want to be treated. We were all blessed by knowing him. I personally will miss his wise counsel.

  • Peggy White says:

    Tom, you were so kind and helpful when my dear Owen died. I always learned much from your advise. Give Owen a hug for me. You two can discuss and solve problems forever.

  • C. Michael Nelson says:

    I met Tom when I was a special education teacher in Shawnee Mission, KS. Tom was collecting data for his dissertation, and had recruited one of my junior high students as one of his subjects. Tom was funny, gracious, and obviously talented then, and those traits endured for as long as I knew him. He was a kind and generous man who never let his reputation as a leader in the field go to his head. I will miss just knowing that he is around.

  • Dan Hallahan says:

    For a man of relatively small stature, Tom was a giant in the field of special education. Jim Kauffman introduced me to Tom years ago. He was a kind, gentle, and humble fellow, who approached life and teaching kids with disabilities with wisdom and compassion.

  • Jim Patton says:

    I was very fortunate to get to know Tom over the years. Although our paths did not cross all that often, when they did, our time together was always special. He was so gracious to me in a number of ways. HIs impact on the field of special education will endure through his writings, his students, and those who had the privilege of knowing him.

  • Kyle and Randy says:

    The Buddha says: “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” For many of us, this is true—the teacher is and will continue to be—Tom.

  • Jim Kauffman says:

    I first met Tom when I was a doc student at KU, in the late 1960s. Tom was then a faculty member at UW and had written important things I had read. Jim Smith, already an admirer of Tom and then a faculty member at KU, introduced us. In 1977, Tom did me the great honor of asking me to write a foreword for In Spite of My Resistance. I visited him at UW, and he and Polly let us stay in their house one time when we were in the area. He and Polly visited us in Charlottesville, much to our pleasure. His work was remarkably good, and his personality was sparkling. We corresponded a little after Polly died, and later Patty, my wife, died. He will be missed by many, including me. Special education has lost one of its best.
    Jim Kauffman

  • Ed Polloway says:

    As noted by others, Tom was truly a giant in our field of special education. His work affected me greatly throughout my career. I did not know Tom well but it was an honor to have met him. A wonderful person.

  • Steve Sulzbacher says:

    I will truly miss Tom, whose influence on my professional career is incalculable! We were fellow grad students at KU when, at the State Line Tavern in Kansas City, he suggested I join him going to U.Wash. in Seattle. He guided me thru a UW Ph.D. and influenced me throughout the balance of my career here in Seattle.
    Tom was a uniquely gifted thinker and an amazing human being. I (and many others) owe him so much…..

  • Richard Whelan says:

    Tom’s family will miss him for all time. But I hope they will grasp the joy that he brought to others not only because of his professional work in music and special education, but because he had a way of making friends and strangers alike feel valued. Tom and I were doctoral students in a very small cohart group at KU, so we have been friends since 1962. The fun memories for me were the times Tom invited me to attend big-band concerts when they stopped in KC. He joined the bands as a member, a testament to his musical skills. After the concerts, the band members (and I) went to African American jazz clubs where the band members joined club members in jam sessions. The club members accepted me because they trusted Tom and I was his guest; in other circumstances this probably would not have happened. I tell this story to illustrate the breadth and depth of Tom’s being. He was truly one in a million. I’ll bet Tom is playing first chair in a really big-band.

  • William Leifer says:

    Tom made a huge difference in my life growing up in KC, both as a trumpet teacher and personal friend. He provided me with a certain understanding about life that I was missing at home. I didn’t realize how much he meant to me until later. We even went to lots of Kansas City Athletics baseball games together. Just the two of us. He never discouraged my interest in jazz and encouraged it, and I still play and even directed a jazz festival for several years. I think my decision to go to Tulane and play music in New Orleans was based on his encouragement. I last saw him in Topeka about 10 years ago before I retired from medicine. We had lunch. A wonderful guy and true role model who made the difference in the lives of so many children who are now better adults for it.

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