Commitment, positivity and problem-solving: Tom Mooney carries mantra into retirement

By Justin Kern, American Red Cross

A scan through any major American Red Cross of Wisconsin community event, disaster, blood drive or fundraiser over the past 14 years will show some level of involvement from Tom Mooney.

There’s Tom grilling hundreds of brats for veterans, their families and V.A. staff in Milwaukee. There is he is again as one of the first people on scene to establish a shelter after flooding in Mazomanie. The massive holiday blood drive in Madison, the compression-only CPR table in Wausau and every community hero (and golf outing) event on the calendar in the state … he’s at all of those, too.

Mooney, right, fries brats and burgers to be served to veterans and more at the Milwaukee V.A. on Memorial Day 2018.

Mooney, the Chief Operating Officer for the Wisconsin Region of the American Red Cross, recently retired after 14 ceaseless years of leadership, in Madison and across the state. Of course, he doesn’t plan to stop; in Red Cross fashion, he’s already been “promoted” to volunteer, which has kept him as a regular presence. Staff or volunteer, it’s a testament to his infectious ability to lead by example.

“For me it boils down to a few things. There is a lot of change and you have to care and you have to be committed,” said Mooney. “You have to have a good attitude. People look for leaders to have common sense but also keep the ship going in the right direction. Let’s figure out solutions to problems.”

For the past 18 months, he was solely the Chief Operating Officer, and previous roles include CEO of what was then known as the Badger Chapter. He is not shy about listing a Rolodex of names of people he credits with supporting him every step of the way, from the Red Cross to his previous decades in various executive and managerial positions at American Family Insurance. He began there after earning his bachelor’s in business administration, finance and risk management from his beloved UW-Madison.

In school or work, Mooney has been dedicated to helping others. He began donating blood in 1982 – now at more than 10 gallons as a donor – and took his first CPR and first aid courses in college “to get the confidence to act if something were to happen.”

“I felt [I could] help people and not be shy about getting involved if something happened to somebody,” said Mooney. “Realistically, with CPR, if you use it, it’s because it’s impacting a loved one. And with compression-only CPR, almost anybody can do it.”

Never boastful, Mooney is hard-pressed to pick out accomplishments along the way. Certainly, though, he was instrumental in the joint push by the Red Cross and American Heart Association to get compression-only CPR as a mandatory lesson in all schools in Wisconsin. That same program was championed by Dr. Darren Bean, who died tragically in a medical helicopter crash, and became the pilot used nationally by the Red Cross.

“Team Mooney” before heading out to install free smoke alarms in Madison.

Another key aspect of Tom’s leadership at the Red Cross came in collaboration with other local nonprofit and service organization heads. Whether that meant building up boards and supporter networks, or late-night phone calls to see where someone could pitch in, those connections continue to benefit Wisconsin residents.

“If you can help other nonprofits and their executives succeed, our whole community is better off. It’s a partnership,” he said.

And Tom was ever-present in the toughest times. From a fatal explosion in Sun Prairie that required substantial lodging and recovery, to nearly every apartment fire emergency shelter in southwest Wisconsin over the past 14 years, Tom was there –  to set up cots, run to get orange juice for a diabetic client, change a flat tire on a trailer or any other thing that came up. The 2008 floods hold a particular place in his memory, as both the worst recent flooding in our state’s history as well as his first disaster with the Red Cross. He remembers disaster assessments in the village of Rock Springs, where his family had annual reunions, an area with high-water marks at four and five feet through a punished downtown. As waters began to recede, he drove his then-school aged children back through Rock Springs, and they reflected as a family on the impact – and ongoing need of residents.

“It was a teaching moment not just for my kids, but for me, on how devastating a disaster can be,” he said.

Madison born and raised, Mooney said it’s important to use this retirement time for those closest to him, including his wife, Sue, and his three children, Claire, Ryan and Logan. Although, knowing Tom, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him once again combine that passion for community service with his love of his family as they all join to volunteer at an upcoming Red Cross preparedness event or blood drive.

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