Obituary: Tom Spies, educator and leader, loved dual role

  • Article by: DAVID SHAFFER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 21, 2012 - 9:40 PM

Tom Spies, a former teacher and City Council member in Bloomington who cast one of the votes to approve the Mall of America, died Monday of lung disease. He was 69.

He taught mathematics for more than 34 years at Olson Elementary School and later Jefferson High School. He served more than 18 years on the City Council, ending his last elected term in 1994. He was appointed to fill a council vacancy in 1999, the year he retired from teaching.

His dual careers made it rare for him to go anywhere in Bloomington without encountering someone who knew him.

"There always would be a former student or constituent who came up to him and said, 'How are you?'" said his son, Paul. "He literally touched tens of thousands of lives -- quite a legacy."

Spies served at a time with fewer political divisions. Once, a local businessman held a joint political fundraiser for Spies, a Democrat, and Roger Blessum, a Republican who was running for a different council seat.

"That wouldn't happen today," said Blessum. "Tom and I became great friends. We considered ourselves moderates."

Spies was an early supporter of the 1987 sale of the former Metropolitan Stadium site to Canadian developer Triple Five Corp. to build the largest shopping center in the United States.

In 1994, he ran for a vacant seat in the state House, losing by 516 votes.

He had a low-key political style, often riding a bicycle to council meetings. His friend and fellow teacher, Ralph James, suggested he create a moving political ad.

"He made a shirt, 'Vote for Spies,' then hung a sign on his back that said, 'I'm Spies,''' James said.

Spies, who taught mathematics, had a sense of humor that engaged students, James said. "I never knew a student who didn't like Tom," James said. Spies, who had been a high school athlete, also coached golf and football, James said.

Spies was born and raised in St. Paul, and attended St. Agnes School there. Later he earned a bachelor's degree from St. John's University in Collegeville, Minn., and a master's degree from Notre Dame University, both in mathematics. He taught one year in St. Cloud before getting a job in Bloomington schools.

He is survived by his wife, Mary Lou, three children, Paul of Minneapolis, Barb of Bloomington and Kathy of Birmingham, Ala., and six grandchildren.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Saturday at St. Bonaventure Catholic Church, 901 E. 90th St., Bloomington. Visitation will be from 4 to 8 p.m. Friday at the Washburn-McReavy (Werness Brothers) Chapel, 2300 W. Old Shakopee Road, Bloomington, and one hour prior to mass at the church.

David Shaffer • 612-673-7090

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