Thomas Edward McCullough, devoted husband, father, grand-father, and expert problem solver, died on April 11, 2023. He was 87 years old. Tom was born in 1935 in Wichita Falls, Texas, to parents Marvin and Adaline McCullough. He showed an early aptitude for mechanical equipment, fully dismantling and reassembling an alarm clock at age four. Tom graduated with a bachelor of science in electrical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he was a member of the pistol team and the Phi Delta Theta fraternity. Tom started working for Texas Instruments in the company’s early years. Over his 40-year career at TI, he traveled the world to work on terrestrial and ocean-bottom seismographs before joining TI’s exclusive defense division. He earned patents for his innovations and developed a reputation as a brilliant trouble-shooter among colleagues, with one describing him as being in “the upper, upper echelon of bright and creative people.” Tom met his wife, Effie, at TI while they both worked on a system for detecting Soviet nuclear tests. Undeterred that she had a boyfriend, he asked her out to a “picture show” and they married in 1978. During their 40-year marriage, Tom’s quiet introversion beautifully complemented Effie’s exuberance. While opposite in personality, they were united in their values and devotion to family and friends, raising three children and restoring a historic home. Tom supported his children’s endeavors enthusiastically, and quite actively whenever science was involved. Despite being a man of few words, Tom was always eager to brag about his children to anyone who would listen. He led by example, quietly modeling wisdom, patience and integrity. Tom was passionate about the Trigg Ranch, his family’s cattle ranch in New Mexico where his mother was raised and where he spent his summers as a boy. He was always eager to visit his beloved ranch relatives and overcome the many engineering challenges only he could solve. He invented a rugged new rain gauge to survive the harsh conditions and built a network of sensors, radios and computers that controls the ranch’s water systems and posts the latest data online. Tom also loved aviation, logging over 2,000 hours in the cockpit and earning instrument and commercial ratings in both airplanes and helicopters. He never missed the daily crossword puzzle, which he completed in ink, seldom relying on “down” clues. Ever generous with his talents, Tom eagerly helped his friends and family with whatever repairs they needed, from air conditioners to cake pans. Tom was preceded in death by his wife Effie Georgas McCullough. He is survived by his son, Edward McCullough of Austin, TX; his daughter, Ellen McCullough and husband Keith Newberry, grandson Thomas Edward Newberry and step-grandchildren Knox and Molly Newberry of Athens, GA; his daughter, Margaret McCullough Long and husband Richard, and grandchildren George, Adaline, and Annie of Austin, TX; and his sister Linda Decker and husband John of Wailuku, HI, and their daughter Sarah Coomar of Woodinville, WA.
Tom’s Children gave a moving eulogy at his service:
TOM MCCULLOUGH EULOGY
Thank you all for being here to help celebrate our dad’s life. Many of you
know us but we are Tom’s children. I’m Margaret and this is Ellen and Edward.
There’s so much to say about Dad but, for me, the ranch felt like the best place to
start. His grandfather bought the land in northeastern New Mexico in 1918 and
Trigg Ranch has operated as a working cattle ranch ever since. It’s where my
grandmother was raised and where Dad spent all of his summers growing up.
His time there had a profound impact on him. He learned young that it was often
faster to fix something himself rather than wait for help or a new part to arrive. He
once helped his uncle use his belt to repair the suspension on a jeep that broke
down in a remote pasture.
Before long, it became clear that his engineering talents were
extraordinary. His cousins, who themselves are exceptionally capable, would
frequently summon him to fix the many things no one else could. He was still
coming to the rescue well into his eighties and he’d drop everything to make the
8.5 hour drive from Dallas. I joined him countless times over my summers in high
school and college. It was a treat to see him in his element where my mom joked
he’d transform into the energizer bunny. To this day, there is no cell service, and I
remember him analyzing tire tracks to figure out who’d come and gone and
whether plans needed to be adjusted. I remember him showing us how you could
chew on mesquite beans and the best way to drive through mud and not get
stuck after a good rain. I also remember how a five day trip might end up being 8.
Or 10. Or 12. Our return date was always tied to his latest project and he had
very little regard for whatever high school party I’d have to miss back home.
When he wasn’t physically at the ranch, he was always calling his cousins
for the latest news. We’d get detailed updates on exactly which pasture the
replacement heifers were in, how much the new bull cost at auction, or how
much rain came the night before, always reported in hundredths of an inch. While
every rancher is concerned with rainfall, my dad was so passionate, he invented
a complex system of radios and computers to remotely track the water levels in
each pasture and then automatically post them to his website. And when the rain
gauges kept succumbing to nosey cattle, nesting wasps, and extreme
temperatures, he designed one that worked so well, Mom and I considered
starting a company to sell them.
Growing up in Dallas, we were deprived of common childhood
experiences, like having a plumber come over or taking a car to the mechanic.
But it was when he applied his ingenuity to solve our everyday problems that we
felt his love the most. Like when I went off to college and missed our dog Texas,
he installed several cameras that would refresh still images of the backyard and
the dog’s bed just so I’d never have to wonder what he was up to. And this was
way before web cams were the norm. After just a mention that it would be fun to
put the Trigg Ranch brand on the beef sliders at my wedding, he disappeared to
the basement to make a small electric branding iron for the caterer to use. Dad
was always eager to solve a problem and we were so lucky he didn’t care how
trivial ours sometimes were.
Dad’s life was driven by a quiet curiosity. That curiosity led him to fully
disassemble many of his belongings. In fact, he claimed he was in his mid-30s
before he owned anything that he hadn’t taken apart and put back together just to
see how it was made. When I was in high school, we rebuilt the Ford Mustang
he’d bought new in 1965 because he wanted me to understand how a car
worked. I remember writing an essay for my college applications about how
difficult it was for me to look things up in the dictionary, because I’d always get
distracted along the way by some other word I’d always wondered about. When I
showed it to Dad, he related immediately. I learned it was easy to get him
interested in any obscure piece of infrastructure simply by pointing it out and
musing about what it might do.
Coupling this insatiable curiosity with a steel-trap memory led him to
accumulate an encyclopedic knowledge of the world. He found his famous
peanut brittle recipe on a box in the grocery store. Growing up, he would rarely
offer an unsolicited opinion but everyone in the family considered him to be the
final arbiter for any dispute from spelling to science. He was never a know-it-all
but I can’t recall a time when he ended up being wrong.
Coupling his curiosity with a patient focus took Dad to Boston to study
electrical engineering at MIT at the dawn of the Digital Age. Summers in college
brought him back to Dallas to work as an intern for an exciting young company
that would soon surprise the world by inventing the microchip: Texas Instruments.
His first projects at TI involved using seismometers to look for oil but, being the
height of the Cold War, he was soon using them to measure the strength of
nuclear tests. He traveled to remote Aleutian islands to measure the intensity of
US tests and worked on a seismometer disguised in a briefcase for some
anonymous James Bond type to sneak into the Soviet Union.
Dad spent 40 years at TI. Even after retirement, he alternated between
naps and projects at the leading edge of technology. His basement workshop
reflected the span of his career from analog to digital. He used his welder and
lathe to repair old windmill parts that were no longer available for purchase. His
basement also housed a server running a custom firewall on an obscure
operating system, meticulously logging the IP addresses of anyone attempting to
hack into his Highland Park network.
Dad’s curiosity also took him into the air. Dad took his first flying lesson in
a Piper Cub when he was a summer intern at TI. Over the next 20 years, he flew
more than once a week on average, logging over 2000 hours in the cockpit.
Within weeks of getting his private pilot’s license, he flew to the Trigg Ranch. His
Cessna shaved 6 hours off of the travel time, but it required learning to land on a
short dirt strip, flanked by mesquite and often occupied by Angus cattle. He even
earned a license to fly helicopters, once landing on a heliport atop a downtown
Dad loved and respected nature and taught us a sort of cowboy
environmentalism. Growing up, we were always urged to conserve resources
(turn off lights, reuse scrap) and had a compost pile in the backyard for any yard
waste. We raised several broods of baby birds and squirrels from nests that fell
out of trees, keeping them warm with a heat lamp and feeding them mealworms
with tweezers. Whether scrambling down a drainage ditch to explore creeks in
Bluffview or on hiking up peaks in Colorado, Dad was always able to navigate
through new terrain without a map. He had somehow already internalized the
geography through some earlier curiosity.
Altogether, Dad served as a shining example of curiosity and competence
and I think we are all grateful for his generosity in sharing those gifts with us.
Though his career and hobbies produced many accomplishments, I would
argue that dad’s most remarkable one took place 47 years ago, when he
managed to catch our mother’s eye at work. He was a bachelor in his 40s, but
my mother was impressed with his reputation as the office McGuyver who was
sent around the world to solve the problems that no one else could. She was also
impressed by his bespoke cashmere suit, his sewing skills, and his complete
We did not realize until we were older how unusual it is to have parents
who are complete polar opposites on almost every personality trait. Our mother
was extremely warm and effervescent, instructing us to “leap tall buildings” to
greet people we knew. Our father was quiet and understated, happiest when
working crossword puzzles or tinkering in the basement. Mom was organized
and take-charge, while dad patiently followed orders. Mom ate Greek yogurt with
nuts, berries and honey before her pilates workouts, while Dad ate oreos for
breakfast and never once entered a gym. They were always united in their
shared family values, which they modeled with unfailing consistency.
As my sister mentioned, Dad loved telling stories about the ranch. The
other thing he loved telling stories about was his children. Please accept our
apologies for any of these stories that you may have had to suffer through. He
was a straight shooter, but if he ever exaggerated anything, it was tales of his
children’s accomplishments. Even our mother, who was not shy to share updates
about us, told him he needed to tone it down. Somehow, he could pull it off. We
were truly blessed to have a father who supported us without question or
Dad was a wonderful steward of his talents, not only using them to secure
our victories in the pinewood derbies, but also to help his community. He was an
avid volunteer here at St. Michael. He ran the church’s IT before such a position
existed, setting up its first network and writing a program to format the
parishioner database into a printable directory. He would often sneak off to work
on the computers during services – we always knew exactly where to find him
when we were ready to leave. Dad also took on many other unconventional
volunteer assignments, such as repairing the baptismal font, which my sister then
used to baptize all of her stuffed animals. Fr. Anschutz, who has so graciously
traveled here to give today’s homily, honored dad with the Rector’s award one
year, and we had to manufacture an excuse to get dad into the sanctuary to
receive the award or he would have definitely been working on the computers
when his name was called.
Besides his genius in problem solving, Tom will probably be most
remembered for how real he was. He was incapable of BS or pretense and
unconcerned with projecting any kind of image. Dad simply was himself always,
no matter who he was with. While many of us at times hoped he would simplify
an explanation just a touch, we were also flattered that he had such faith in our
intellect. I will always find inspiration in the way dad was so comfortable in
himself, and so kind to others.