1943-2014: Former Councilman Sullivan dies

By From page A1 | February 21, 2014


Cameron Park resident Tom Sullivan was a mental health advocate, a Placerville City Councilman and a past director of Mental Health for both Sacramento and El Dorado counties and a Boston Red Sox fan. He died of natural causes, surrounded by his family, on Feb. 7.

He was on the City Council in 1980, when ground was broken for the parking garage, serving with the late Carl Borelli, Karen Tustin, Roger Prengel, Al Tuttle and Jim McIntire. Elected in 1978, he served six years on the council, and helped lay the groundwork for growth and expansion.

Sullivan was born in Boston on Feb. 2, 1943, to Stephen Michael Sullivan II and Rita McMahon Sullivan. He graduated from high school in Alabama and from college at Michigan State University, and earned a master’s degree in social work from the University of Connecticut in 1967.

He married Valerie Wichowski, whom he met at Michigan State, in 1965 and, after graduate school, the couple moved to Concord, Calif. Their first child, Kimberly, was born there.

Sullivan worked at Napa State Hospital until 1970, when the family moved to Sacramento and he continued his career in mental health work there. A second daughter, Kristin, was born.

In 1974, Sullivan accepted the job as El Dorado County Mental Health director and moved his family to Placerville. His wife, Valerie, opened a popular retail store, the Last Straw, on Main Street and with a lifelong interest in politics, Tom Sullivan began attending Placerville City Council meetings.

“He always wanted to make things better,” said Kathleen Burne Sullivan, Sullivan’s second wife whom he married in 1989. “He ran for county auditor in Michigan when he was only 21. He lost, but he always wanted to be involved in his community and he loved Placerville.”

Sullivan became good friends with fellow Councilman Carl Borelli. “He and Carl would get up at 3 a.m. and drive to San Francisco to pick up fish for Carl’s fish market and they would always stop at the Buena Vista for Irish coffee before they drove back,” said Kathleen Sullivan. “He had a Vespa that he drove all over Placerville and he loved it. It sat in our garage for years after it stopped running.”

While Sullivan was on the City Council, serving as vice mayor 1982-1984, the parking garage was built and the Purity Market transformed into Town Hall, the current meeting place for City Council. He was instrumental in bringing the stamp mill to Gold Bug Park.

He left El Dorado County Mental Health in 1979 to go into private practice and to lobby for the California Mental Health Directors Association. He also worked for Santa Cruz County Mental Health but continued to live in Placerville until 1989 when he moved to Cameron Park.

“As a dad, he was very supportive,” said daughter Kristin Singhasemanon. “He was team dad for the El Dorado High School cross-country team when I was on the team. We would go camping with a group of people that I still camp with and look for rocks in the desert. ”

In 1986, Sullivan returned to Sacramento County to help build the Sacramento Mental Health Treatment Center and in 1991, he became director of Sacramento County Mental Health while his wife, Kathleen, became director of El Dorado County Mental Health.

“He was an amazing, generous and kind man,” said Kathleen. “I learned so much from him about mental health that you couldn’t get from a textbook — his compassion, understanding and focus on making life better for people with mental illness. He never lost that focus.”

In 2002, Sullivan returned to work in El Dorado County after he was recruited for the position of Director of Social Services. “Mental Health and Social Services work very closely together and that was easy for us,” said Kathleen. “In October 2003, he retired and talked me into retiring three months later. ”

The couple bought a motor home and began traveling for months at a time. “He was delighted with his life and loved traveling and then coming home to see the family,” said Kathleen. With his second marriage, Sullivan had added two stepchildren, Jason Burne and Lindsey Burne Tampas. “It was very important to him to have all family events at our house and to bring both families together as one,” said Kathleen.

“He was a wonderful grandfather,” said Kristin Singhasemanon. Grandchildren, Campbell and Damon Singhasemanon and James and Isabel Burne were his joys and he relished his time with them.

In addition to family and travel, Sullivan’s passion was the Boston Red Sox. “He and his brother would get on the subway and ride it to the Red Sox games when he was a little boy,” said Kathleen. “He was almost obsessive about them and wore a Red Sox watch every day. When they won the Series last year, he was overjoyed.”

Another joy was getting to attend the Rose Bowl game this year when Michigan State played.

Tom Sullivan is survived by his wife, Kathleen; daughters, Kimberly Sullivan and Kristin Sullivan Singhasemanon (Nan); his brother, Stephen Michael Sullivan III (Bonnie); two step-children, Jason Burne (Lori) and Lindsey Burne Tampas (Kerry); and four grandchildren, Campbell and Damon Singhasemanon and James and Isabel Burne.

Services will be held for Thomas J. Sullivan at the Cameron Park Community Center on March 1 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. The family suggests donations to Loaves and Fishes in Sacramento in lieu of flowers.

Wendy Schultz

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