Thomas A. Oakley, force for regional progress, dies

Thomas A. Oakley, 1932-2022
Thomas A. Oakley, 1932-2022(Herald-Whig Photo)
Published: Apr. 13, 2022 at 5:53 PM CDT
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QUINCY (WGEM) - Thomas A. Oakley, local media executive, entrepreneur, philanthropist and economic development and transportation advocate, died Wednesday, April 13, 2022, at his home. He was 89 years old.

He was born June 24, 1932, in Quincy, a son of Thomas C. and Mary S. Oakley.

He married Anne McDonald of Raleigh, N.C., on Dec. 22, 1954, in Raleigh, N.C. She preceded him in death on Jan. 30, 2015.

He graduated from Quincy High School in June 1950, and he earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Duke University in Durham, N.C., in 1954.

Oakley joined the U.S. Air Force in 1954, serving for three years, including two years flying a B-47 with Strategic Air Command. He was honorably discharged with the rank of first lieutenant in 1957 and later was a captain in the inactive Reserves.

He was stationed at several air bases around the country, including in Enid, Okla., where he and his wife had their first son, Thomas Crawford Oakley II, in September 1955. Tommy was killed in a car accident on Oct. 11, 1974, when he was a sophomore at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio.

In October 1956, while stationed in Tucson, Ariz., their second son, Ralph McDonald Oakley, was born.

In August 1957, Oakley and his family returned to Quincy, and in March 1960, their daughter, Mary McDonald Oakley, was born.

Upon returning home, he rejoined his family business, the fourth generation to do so. The family business was Quincy Newspapers Inc., later renamed Quincy Media Inc.

Oakley began his journalism career working as a carrier boy for the Quincy Herald-Whig in 1943 and 1944. During the summer of 1950, he worked for Quincy Broadcasting, and in the summers of 1949, 1951, 1952 and 1953, he worked for the Quincy Herald-Whig.

Oakley was the fourth generation of his family to be involved in the ownership and operation of the company. He was a descendant of Ray M. Oakley, a second-generation family member and a founder of QNI. Oakley’s father, Thomas C. Oakley, a third generation of the family working at the newspaper, pioneered the company’s expansion into radio and television. Under his leadership, the company began the first commercial FM radio station in the area in 1947, bought Quincy Broadcasting Co. and began operating WGEM-AM radio in 1948.

QNI launched WGEM-TV - the first television station to serve this region in 1953. The company also helped build the first cable television system in Quincy, beginning the effort in 1963 during the earliest years of that industry.

When Thomas A. Oakley became president of the company in 1969, the company consisted of the Herald-Whig, WGEM-TV, AM and FM and a portion of ownership of a New Jersey newspaper.

Under Oakley’s leadership, QMI began its major expansion into television. By the time he stepped down as president and CEO in 2008, QMI operated television stations in 10 markets, in addition to two radio stations and two newspapers.

The company was sold in 2021.

When the broadcast operation was purchased by Gray Television, it had been operating television stations in 16 markets, with nearly 100 program streams, as well as 2 radio stations and 2 newspapers.

The newspaper division, comprising the Herald-Whig and Hannibal Courier-Post, was sold to Phillips Media Group in 2021.

Oakley was actively involved in industry affairs, including membership on the National Association of Broadcasters Board and chairman of the Television Bureau of Advertising. He also held leadership positions in the newspaper industry.

In 2020, Oakley was inducted into the prestigious Gold Circle by the Mid-America Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. The award is one of television’s highest honors.

Despite his very impressive work in the media industry, Oakley’s greatest legacy may be in economic development. Specifically, in the advancement of highway transportation.

He played a leading role in bringing three national corridors through the region that connects Quincy and the tri-state area to the rest of the United States, and are critical infrastructure for economic development.

His leadership was acknowledged in 2009, with a naming of a portion of the Chicago to Kansas City Expressway from Quincy to Macomb, Ill., as the Thomas A. Oakley Highway.

After stepping down from his role as president/CEO of QNI, Oakley remained active in the company through 2017 and remained on its board of directors until the company disbanded in 2021.

He remained active in transportation and economic development until his death.

Earlier this year, he announced a $1 million gift to Culver-Stockton College to establish the Tri-State Development Summit at Culver-Stockton College.

A funeral service is planned for 10 a.m. Wednesday at St. John’s Anglican Parish in Quincy with burial to follow at Woodland Cemetery. No visitation is planned.

Hansen-Spear Funeral Directors are in charge of the arrangements.


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