In Memory

Thomas Lee Harvey VIEW PROFILE

October 29, 1944 - January 16, 2015

Seeing young people succeed thrilled Thomas Harvey, whether the stage was his “beloved North High School” or elsewhere in the Omaha community.

“He had great expectations, high expectations for every child, and he always had kind words for everyone,” said longtime friend Gene Haynes, the principal at Omaha North. “And he held the kids accountable whether it was a star athlete or a top student.”

Harvey, 70, died Friday night of kidney disease at an Elkhorn-area care center. A funeral Mass is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday at St. Leo Catholic Church, 1920 N. 102nd St.

Harvey, a native of Monroe, Louisiana, joined the Omaha Public Schools in 1967 shortly after graduating from Grambling State University with a degree in education. He later obtained a master’s degree from the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

He rose from teacher to assistant principal at Northwest High School, where he worked with a young guidance counselor named John Mackiel, who would go on to become superintendent of OPS. Harvey also served as principal of McMillan Magnet Center and from 1986 to 1997 was principal at North High.

When Mackiel became superintendent in 1997, he asked Harvey to work at the central administrative office, where he was assistant superintendent of student and community relations until his 2012 retirement.

Mackiel said Harvey’s tenure at North High was highlighted by the magnet school winning a Blue Ribbon award for academic excellence.

Prior to becoming a magnet school for computer science and math, North received little interest from students choosing high schools. Mackiel said Harvey’s ability to build relationships with parents and guardians as well as students was crucial to raising enrollment.

“When you think how far down North had been and where it is now, it’s just amazing,” Mackiel said. “The doors at North were open from dawn to late at night. The state’s first magnet school was truly a community success as well as the school district’s.”

Harvey “never remained silent” when it came to advocating for his students, Mackiel said. “He spoke his mind and let it be known that he advocated for young people.”

Harvey made a commitment to integration at North because he understood “that kids from all walks of life deserved a quality education, and the best way of doing that was by bringing together students from different socioeconomic backgrounds,” Mackiel said.

Sandra Hodges, who was assistant superintendent for human resources with OPS, said Harvey “literally broke down the fences” at North High.

“I mean he really tore down that huge fence they had around the school,” Hodges said. “He let it be known that his door was always open and that he would go the limit to make sure kids had opportunities, even when others may have given up on them.”

Teachers and other staff members also could count on Harvey, said Haynes.

“He valued staff input and supported great ideas wherever they came from,” Haynes said. “He was able to accomplish what he did because he had a passion for life, a passion for people and a passion for the kids.”

Harvey’s wife, Alina, said her husband didn’t have hobbies because he was consumed by his love of education. He believed in the Omaha community, she said, “not just his beloved North High School and the public schools.”

Inevitably, when the Harveys traveled around Omaha, they were greeted by former students. The message was always “Thanks for being there for me” at North or one of the other schools at which he worked, she said.

“I don’t care where we went, we always ran into young people who wanted to thank Tom,” Alina Harvey said. “So many said ‘I wouldn’t be the person that I am today if wasn’t for you.’ ”

One of the Harveys’ last outings was the 2014 Class A football championship game, which North won. Haynes and his wife took the Harveys to the game.

“The last time I talked to him, several days ago, he was still very appreciative of getting to see that game, and he couldn’t stop talking about how much he enjoyed seeing the kids,” Haynes said. “The memories he developed were priceless.”

Mackiel said when North High graduate and former World-Herald columnist Rainbow Rowell wrote her first book, Harvey asked Mackiel to get a copy for him signed by the author. Mackiel said he was “very touched” by the fondness Rowell showed for her old principal.

Years earlier, Rowell had written about her admiration for “Mr. Harvey” in her first column for The World-Herald. She recalled that Harvey called her into his office and sternly wanted to know why she hadn’t taken the ACT test for college.

“What was I supposed to say? That I didn’t have money? That I didn’t think I could? That I was scared? Mr. Harvey wasn’t having any of that,” she wrote. “Take the test, he said, look at schools. And don’t worry about application fees or tuition. We’ll work it out.”

Preceded in death by son, Tor L. Harvey; sister, Linda Reed. Survived by wife, Alina Bass-Harvey; mother, Johnetta Hunter, Monroe, LA; son, Marcus Harvey, Omaha; sisters, Dilcy Carter (Morris), Monroe, LA, Annette Goodman (Reginald), Accokeek, Maryland, Toni Harvey, Washington, D.C.; brother, Charles Harvey, Dallas, TX; mother-in-law, Rosa Bass, Houston, TX; former wife Mary Harvey Evans of Atlanta; and a host of nieces, nephews, and dear friends.

VIEWING one hour prior to Mass. MASS OF CHRISTIAN BURIAL Saturday 11am, St. Leo Catholic Church, 1920 N. 102 St.

Interment at Houston Memorial Garden, Houston, TX at a later date.

CROSBY BURKET SWANSON GOLDEN Colonial Chapel 11902 W. Center Rd. 402-333-7200

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