Quincy News

Herald-Whig publisher Thomas A. Oakley to retire after 63-year career

Then-Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, second from left, helps unveil a sign that names a 60-mile portion of the Chicago to Kansas City Expressway between Quincy and Macomb as the Thomas A. Oakley Highway during a ceremony Sept. 1, 2009, at Clat Adams Park in Quincy. Oakley, far right, was honored with the designation for his decades of leadership on transportation causes in the Tri-State region. At far left is then-Illinois Transportation Secretary Gary Hannig. Then-state Rep. Jil Tracy is standing next to Oakley. (H-W Photo/Philip Carlson)
Posted: Oct. 22, 2017 12:01 am Updated: Oct. 22, 2017 7:27 am

QUINCY -- Thomas A. Oakley, publisher of The Herald-Whig and former president and chief executive officer of Quincy Media, Inc., has announced he will retire after a 63-year career with the company, effective Dec. 31.

Oakley will remain a member of the QMI Board of Directors and will serve as a consultant to the company in areas of economic development and transportation.

"I have had an incredibly rewarding career with the company and have enjoyed every minute of it," Oakley said. "We have had the chance to operate in many markets and make a difference for the communities we serve."

Oakley served as president and CEO of the company from 1969 until 2008. He has remained as publisher of The Herald-Whig since stepping down from that role.

"Tom's accomplishments on behalf of the company, Quincy and all the regions we serve are well known," said his son, Ralph Oakley, who has been president and CEO of Quincy Media since 2009.

"He has been a great mentor to me and to countless others. His leadership, vision and countless contributions have impacted so many people and projects."

A member of the fourth generation of his family to work for the company, Tom Oakley joined QMI full time in 1954 upon graduation from Duke University. He was called to active duty as a pilot in the U.S. Air Force two months later and served until 1957, including two years flying the B-47 in the Strategic Air Command.

He returned to Quincy in 1958 and worked in various positions until being named president and CEO following the death of his father, Thomas C. Oakley, in 1969.

"I am very proud the family tradition continues with ongoing generations of the Oakley and Lindsay families being involved in the company," Tom Oakley said.

While he has been involved in dozens of organizations and projects in both this region and the media industry, Tom Oakley's greatest legacy is that of the dramatic improvement of highway transportation.

Beginning in 1958, he has been a leader in improving transportation and infrastructure in the Midwest. He has worked with 10 Illinois governors, 13 secretaries of transportation, and numerous other state and federal officials in Illinois, Missouri and Iowa on regional transportation projects.

The results include completion of the Chicago to Kansas City Expressway from downtown Chicago to downtown Kansas City via a new corridor, the Central Illinois Expressway (I-72) from Springfield to the Mississippi River and the Avenue of the Saints from St. Louis to St. Paul, Minn.

Those three national corridors serve the region and connect it to highway systems in the rest of the Midwest and to the continental United States.

Former Illinois Gov. Jim Thompson, a Republican who served from 1977 to 1991 and was instrumental in helping secure funding to complete the Central Illinois Expressway, said he remembers hearing Western Illinois described as "Forgottonia" during his initial visit to the region.

"When I asked what that meant, I was told it was very simple: You can't get here from there. We don't have enough highways in Western Illinois to connect with the rest of Illinois, let alone the rest of the country," he said. "So during my time in office, I wanted to make sure they could never say that about Western Illinois again.

"There was no greater proponent of achieving that, no one who gave more support, than Tom. A lot of people came to the table and a lot of people gave vocal support, but it took that one continuous voice from Quincy to make sure it happened. Tom and I have a relationship that endures until this day."

Christopher "Kit" Bond, a former two-term Missouri governor and four-term U.S. senator, said Oakley's ability to reach across state lines to work with local, regional and national officials was instrumental in the success of vital projects that have helped to transform the region.

"Tom was a very important ally in lots of things where bi-state cooperation was absolutely essential," Bond said. "Whenever we needed bi-state cooperation, whether it be for highways, bridges, waterways or a host of other things, Tom was a valuable partner."

Oakley's leadership was acknowledged in 2009 with the naming of the 60-mile portion of the CKC from Quincy to Macomb as the Thomas A. Oakley Highway.

"I feel the best about that because in Illinois, they don't usually name roads after people who are still alive," Oakley said.

In addition to the highway naming, Oakley has received dozens of awards for his community service, including induction into the Quincy Area Chamber of Commerce Business Hall of Fame in 2007. He also has received honorary degrees from both Quincy University (then Quincy College) and Culver-Stockton College.

"If the Midwest and Illinois had 100 Tom Oakleys, our region would be the envy of the country," said Mike McClain, a Quincy attorney and former Illinois state representative. "He dedicates every minute of every day to make our region grow. He knows and believes to the tips of his toes that it is about a region."

Oakley has also played a significant role both in the broadcasting and newspaper industries, serving in several national leadership positions. In addition, during his tenure as president and CEO of QMI, the company grew from owning The Herald-Whig and WGEM TV and radio in Quincy to operating in 11 media markets through acquisitions of additional television stations and one newspaper.

He was recognized earlier this year with the Illinois Press Association Distinguished Service Award. He received the National Association of Broadcasters Chuck E. Sherman Television Leadership Service Award in 2007 and the Broadcasters Foundation of America Ward Quaal Pioneer Award in 2008.

The company began in 1926 as Quincy Newspapers Inc., through the merger of the Quincy Herald and the Quincy Whig. The company changed its name to Quincy Media in 2016. It now operates television stations in 14 markets, along with two newspapers, two radio stations and a full-service digital agency. QMI is headquartered in Quincy.

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