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Thomas J. Quinlan

Thomas J. Quinlan, 98, passed away Monday, January 15, 2024. He was a master teacher in a career that spanned eight decades.

He was the beloved husband of the late Virginia (Clark) Quinlan.

Born January 28, 1925 in Philadelphia, he was a son of the late John and Edna (Brownell) Quinlan and a proud grandson of Bartholomew and Cecilia (Cox) Quinlan, both of whom were born in Ireland ( in Co. Cork and Co. Fermanagh respectively).

Tom and Ginny, his wife of 68 years, were among the original residents of Levittown, PA and were active in St. Michael the Archangel parish as lectors and volunteers.  Tom was a long-time supporter and member of the YMCA of Lower Bucks County. They were both very involved in amateur theater groups in Bucks County, especially the Langhorne Players.  An accomplished actor with a booming voice, he was actually offered an opportunity to shift his career to the stage, but he eventually declined and stayed with his teaching career.

Tom’s life was devoted to his family, his thousands of students and his love of poetry, which was first inspired at St. Bartholomew’s Catholic School by his fourth grade teacher, Sister Marie St. Joseph, SSJ. Tom graduated from North Catholic High School (1942), LaSalle College (1949) and held a Masters degree from Temple University. He also did post graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania and Rutgers University.

As a teenager, he worked as a caddie at Torresdale golf club, working for tips he would use to fund weekend bus trips to Wildwood, NJ for dance events. He loved the Jersey shore and was always happy to visit his daughter and her  family at their beach home.  He was only an occasional golfer, mostly because he worked two jobs for much of his life, but once retired, he played more often and in his 80s he won a gold medal for golf at the Pennsylvania Senior Olympics.

At age 16, he caddied in the most famous golf tournament ever held in the city of Philadelphia, the Henry Hurst Invitational, in the fall of 1941.  Sam Snead set a course record (64) at Torresdale GC that stood for more than 75 years.  Gene Sarazen and Byron Nelsen finished sixth.  Tom’s local club pro finished one shot out of the money, tied with the legendary Ben Hogan, who had his first “out of the money” finish in 56 events.  When spotted by his high school principal at the course on the Friday, Tom was pulled aside by the priest, who whispered to him, “If you don’t tell…I won’t tell.”

Within a year, he had enlisted and was en route cross-country to a troop ship in Seattle, headed west.  He served in the Army Air Corps in the Pacific Theater from 1942 until 1946.  He carried two books with him throughout WWII, one of which was Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass”.

A teacher for more than 70 years, he was employed by the Philadelphia public schools from 1949 until 1990, primarily at Abraham Lincoln High School.  He also served as the school’s drama coach for 20 years.  His most famous student at Lincoln was a future actor named Sylvester Stallone, who would later recruit him, along with the Lincoln marching band, for a cameo role in the movie “Rocky 3.” Tom also taught night school at Northeast High School and summer school at Central High School for three decades.  And for more than 10 years, he was a realtor with the Chapman agency in Levittown.

In “retirement” Tom Quinlan taught poetry for many years to senior citizens at Delaware Valley College (now University) in Doylestown.  

He left a legacy of thousands of students from his legendary English and poetry classes. He still had hundreds of former students as fans on his Facebook page (Tom Quinlan poetry).

He was a teacher’s teacher, sharing his love of Emily Dickinson, Shakespeare and Seamus Heaney with his full-throated gusto and thoughtful perspective.

Tom particularly treasured his 10 summers spent at the Yeats Summer School in Sligo, Ireland and his annual poetry reading at the NYU Glucksman Ireland House Poetry Lecture, where winners of the Seamus Heaney Poetry Prize presented their work. Through his trips to Sligo, he discovered and visited with his extended Irish family, notably his second cousin Chrissy Dolan and her brothers, who still own the farm, outside Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, NI, where Tom’s grandmother was born in 1862. 

In 2016, aged 91, he published his first book, “A Crowd of Stars”, a collection his favorite poems, which he wrote alongside his son and daughter-in-law at their Bucks County home.  He was a subscriber to and an avid reader of The New Yorker magazine, primarily for its poetry, for seven decades and would travel great distances to hear lectures and readings by New Yorker poetry editors, such as Helen Vendler and the poet Paul Muldoon. Tom’s single favorite book was “Walden” by Henry David Thoreau and he read it every summer for more than 60 years. In his 80s, he traveled with his oldest grandson to Massachusetts for a memorable visit to Walden Pond.

Tom was a lifetime fan of Philadelphia sports teams, especially his beloved Phillies.  He was a member of the “knothole gang” of youths who attended games at Baker Bowl in North Philadelphia.  He would later attend games at Connie Mack Stadium, Veterans Stadium and eventually Citizen's Bank Park.  On Sunday July 7, 2013, he was invited to make the on-field introduction of the lineups of the Phillies and the Atlanta Braves.  Aged 88, he was by far the oldest person ever to handle this assignment, according to the Phillies.  He was joined on the field that day by both the Philly Phanatic and his grandson.  His most memorable Phillies game was October 6, 2010, when Roy Halladay pitched his playoff no hitter.

Growing up in the Frankford section of Philadelphia, he was a neighbor of the city’s best ballplayer of the era…Jimmy Foxx, star of then Philadelphia A’s.  He also attended a 1931 game played by the Frankford Yellowjackets, the NFL team that preceded the Eagles, who would play at the huge Municipal Stadium in South Philadelphia, where he attended games in the late 1930s.

But Tom’s greatest love was for his family.

Survivors include three children, Tom Quinlan, Joe Quinlan (Mary Lou), and Ginny Newshel (Tony); three grandchildren, Michael Newshel (Jessica), Brian Newshel (Katie), and Amy Marshall (Miguel); seven great-grandchildren; and many nieces and nephews.

Tom was preceded in death by his wife Ginny, their infant daughter, Maureen; and four siblings, Joseph, John, Helen, and Peg.

For his last three years, Tom resided at the Pine Run Retirement Community in Doylestown, where he received extraordinary care from the wonderful staff, medical personnel and friends.

Relatives and friends are invited to greet the family Wednesday, January 24, 2024 from 9:30 am until 10:15am followed by the funeral Mass at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, 235 E State St, Doylestown, Pa.  His interment in the Washington Crossing National Cemetery will be held privately at a late date.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that contributions in Tom’s name be made to: The Sisters of St. Joseph Retirement Fund, 9701 Germantown Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19118 or online at www.ssjphila.org


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Service/Memorial Information
  • Morning Visitation

    Wednesday, January 24th, 2024
    9:30 AM - 10:15 AM

    Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church
    235 E. State Street
    Doylestown, PA 18901

  • Words of Remembrance

    Wednesday, January 24th, 2024
    10:15 AM

    Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church
    235 E. State Street
    Doylestown, PA 18901

  • Funeral Mass

    Wednesday, January 24th, 2024
    10:30 AM

    Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church
    235 E. State Street
    Doylestown, PA 18901

  • Interment will take place privately, on a future date.

    Washington Crossing National Cemetery
    830 Highland Road
    Newtown, PA 18940

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