Remembering Tom McCormick, DMin

Dear Friends and Colleagues:


It is with deep sadness that I share the news that Dr. Tom McCormick, Senior Lecturer Emeritus in the Department of Bioethics & Humanities, died Friday night, February 12, 2021, under the care of hospice and with his wife, Karen, by his side.  He was 86 years old.


Tom mentored, guided, and counseled countless students, coworkers, and clinicians in his long tenure at UW.  He was a cherished colleague and friend, and his presence, laughter, and light will be greatly missed.   


Tom's generosity, kindness, and optimism marked every interaction whether it be with a stranger or close friend.  I have never met anyone like him, and the world, our department, and the SOM are better because of his indelible mark on us.




Denise M. Dudzinski, PhD, HEC-C  

Professor & Chair, Department of Bioethics & Humanities | UW Medicine

Chief/Director, UW Medicine Ethics Consultation Service 

We invite you to share your stories and memories of Dr. McCormick using this form, and we will add them to this page.  If you have photos to share, please email them to, and we will also add them to this page.

In lieu of flowers, Dr. McCormick's family requested donations in honor of him be sent a fund in his name through the UW Dept. of Bioethics & Humanities.  The fund will support lectureships and scholarships in honor of Dr. McCormick’s far-reaching commitment to bioethics education.  To dedicate your gift in honor of Dr. McCormick's memory:

  • Step 1:  Click the link to Dr. McCormick's UW donation web page
  • Step 2: Click the purple "Donate Now" button. 
  • Step 3:  Check the check box “I would like to dedicate this gift to someone”
  • Step 4:  Select the box “In Memory”  
  • Step 5:  Enter Dr. McCormick’s name as "Honoree"

Tributes to and memories of Dr. McCormick:

The UW Medicine Huddle Remembering Senior Lecturer Emeritus Tom McCormick

The Seattle Times Obituary for Dr. Tom McCormick

Dr. Tom McCormick had many wonderful qualities.  I would like to speak to two -- his generosity and grace.  Tom was well-known, respected, and truly beloved within the nursing community.  He provided many, many presentations to nurses and nursing students both formally as a conference speaker or guest lecturer, and informally to groups of practicing nurses struggling with the bioethical issues they faced in practice.  Tom was extraordinarily compassionate -- pastoral -- in his approach.  He had a gift for helping clinicians look squarely at their foibles and find the grace to grow.  Tom often delivered a needed bit of criticism with a good natured laugh, twinkle in his eye, and gentle smile.  I learned a teaching technique from him that I never forgot.  Tom was skilled at maintaining a group as a "moral community".  When someone in the group made a statement that revealed a bias, an ill-considered argument, or was otherwise flawed, Tom had a talent for re-stating that comment as a hypothesis that would take the core idea to its logical, but clearly unwanted outcome. In this way, he allowed people to revise their thinking, to grow, to remain in the conversation, and to stay within the group's moral community.  Discussions, even on challenging bioethics topics, were safe for all involved with Tom at the helm.  His generosity and grace will be sorely missed, but his impact on the many, many who had the good fortune to learn from him will be felt for a long time.  

~ Sarah Shannon, colleague for 35 years

Everyone knows Tom as one of the warmest people anywhere. In August 2000, I was on my honeymoon with my new wife, Linda, in Seward, Alaska walking downtown near the waterfront. Out of nowhere, I hear a distant "Hey Mark!” which is repeated louder and louder. I look over to see Tom hanging out of a truck that is driving by and waving at us. He was in Seward for the Salmon Derby with Dan Hunt. I guess it was a yearly outing for them.

~ Mark Sullivan, adjunct faculty in the UW Dept. of Bioethics & Humanities for 30 years who has known and worked with Tom, especially on the Summer Seminar

I met Tom in the mid-1970s, when he joined the faculty of what was then the Department of Biomedical History as our first lecturer on medical ethics. As a fledgling medical historian, I had little idea of what medical ethics involved, at least since the 1920s. Tom soon fixed that. Over the years, through both lectures and conversations, I acquired through Tom at least a layperson's familiarity with the complexities of ethical decision-making in contemporary medicine, a familiarity that enriched my understanding of medicine's history. In addition, I developed a treasured friendship with Tom, who was one of the most affable people I have ever known, unfailingly outgoing and jovial. I shall miss him greatly.

~ Jim Whorton, colleauge and Professor Emeritus in the UW Dept. of Bioethics & Humanities 

Tom was a dear friend and close colleague. It is hard to speak of him in the past tense, because I love and miss him and because he seems to be present even when he's absent. Tom was kind, optimistic, generous, welcoming, and hard-working. Taking care of people came naturally to him. He was a counselor for UW medical students for many years, and he always listened with the skill of a counselor but acted more like a friend. I had the great fortune of becoming his good friend. Tom and his wife, Karen, were really members of our family. In middle school, my son named Tom as his best friend. Tom took my son fishing and came over to watch the Super Bowl. He did this with many other friends, too. He shared his love and affection widely, thank goodness. Tom and I co-directed the annual Summer Seminar in Healthcare Ethics. We especially enjoyed our annual dinner with the faculty and their spouses. When dessert came around, it would be time to stand up and thank our exceptional faculty. I love these faculty but my introversion always gets the better of me. Tom knew this. He'd grab my arm and take the lead with a gracious toast. These small gestures of care were Tom's signature. We will feel his absence when we gather again. Of course, Tom also brought clinical ethics education to the UW medical school, teaching ethics throughout the WWAMI region since 1974! He was one of the founders of the Harborview ethics committee, taught ethics in the neonatal intensive care unit, and quietly advised countless clinicians. I could write pages and pages about his professional accomplishments, but it's the friend I will miss. The Department of Bioethics & Humanities will honor Tom with educational events in his name including, I hope, a scholarship to Summer Seminar. He lives on in me and many others who were shaped by our professional and personal relationships with him.

~ Denise Dudzinski, friend, colleague, and Professor and Chair in the UW Dept. of Bioethics & Humanities

I finished my master's degree in medical ethics at Michigan State in 1996 and was gearing up to move to Seattle to join my then-fiance', who was attending law school at UW. Howard Brody, one of my advisors at MSU, told me to I needed to connect with a fellow named Tom McCormick as soon as I got to town. Howard said that Tom was a wonderful person who shared my interest in the role literature might play in training compassionate, sensitive physicians. When I got here, without a job or any Seattle connections besides my intended, Tom helped me find my feet, generously inviting me to co-teach his literature and medicine elective. Of course, I learned much more than I ever taught. Over the years, Tom was a steady, wise, and unfailingly kind advisor and friend, encouraging me to follow my heart's vocation in whatever way I could, even as I found work in the corporate world. We used to joke that he was my Fairy Godfather, and so he was: more than 10 years after that first encounter, I found myself working in his home department at UW, with an office just across the hallway. I will miss Tom's big bear hugs, his ecclesiastical whistling, his infectious chuckle, his humility, and his sincere care for others. His example will continue to inspire me in my work. I am deeply grateful to have known him.

~Sue Trinidad, mentee, friend, admirer, colleague

One of my fondest memories of Tom was seeing him teach a small seminar of students on ethical issues related to death and dying.  The students were in their teens and twenties, and most of them aspired to future careers in medicine.  Death and dying seemed a remote, abstract ethical problem, which happened mostly to others.  Tom started off by asking the students how many of them expected to die. He then went on to elicit personal experiences with death, and students shared experiences involving the deaths of their grandparents and loved ones. Tom shared his own experience.  It was only after he had established this rapport, that he went on to present medical cases and engage with students in ethical analysis.  It was such an impressive example of Tom's knack for bringing out the human element.

~ Nancy S. Jecker, friend and colleague

Tom and I have been colleagues and friends since the early 1980's. My wife and I did many things with Tom and Karen, but especially enjoyed cocktails and dinners together. Tom officiated at my daughter's wedding and every Christmas came to our home for dinner. I fondly remember Tom dancing with our granddaughter when she was 5 wearing her special red gown. Tom and Karen spent time with us at our beach house on Willapa Bay and Tom and I went steelhead fishing. When we had our boat moored at Edmonds, Tom met my wife and I there to go salmon fishing. Our boat would not start, so being the optimist, Tom suggested we take the Edmonds ferry in his car and get to Point No Point our planned destination. Long story short, what seemed to be a bad day turned into a great day of fishing with 6 salmon landed because of Tom's suggestion. I could go on and on, but suffice it to say, Tom was one of my favorite friends who constantly brought laughter and joy into my life and I really miss him already.

~ Jack Berryman, Professor Emeritus and colleague

Tom was a gift! His sense of humor added so much to the depth of his knowledge & understanding of humanity & medical ethics. His strong faith was integral to all he said & did, though he did not preach, just an immensely able teacher. He helped me to acknowledge my skills as a hospital chaplain & gave me confidence in my grasp of medical ethics. I have strong memories of his words, guidance & commitment. He was humble. He listened; when you spoke, you would know he had heard what you said & what was between the lines. All of us are better off for having had him in our lives, even briefly. I pray for his family & all who will miss his presence in their lives.

~ Rev. Mary E.N. Hanke, as a student of his & attendee to his lectures, & more

Dr. Thomas McCormick was my vertical advisor during my 4 years of medical school at the University of Washington (E-90).  I also took two of his classes in Medical History and Ethics.  I feel so lucky to have been able to  benefit from his wisdom and guidance during those formative years.  He was charming, witty and generous.  He always made us feel that we could “change the world” yet reminded us where we came from as a profession. He grounded us in humanity and helped us see the dignity in all of life. 

~ Diana Koala, MD

I’m struggling to find adequate words to describe Tom, even harder to portray what we all have lost in the passing of this remarkable man. He was a dear mentor and friend beginning with the years we spent in the T-wing together supporting medical students, then through facilitating retreats at St. Andrew’s and catching up over lunch at Marlais’s in the decades following. One of his superpower gifts I witnessed over and over again was his ability to make everyone he met feel special, important, seen. He exuded an authentic compassion and curiosity for each person’s story while also being an exceptional storyteller himself.

Tom exemplified both/and. He was both a philosopher, considering all of life’s deepest ethical questions, as well as a prolific writer of the everyday, as depicted in his newsy Sunday email reviews of the week. He was humble and yet wise, down to earth and existentially thoughtful, curious and yet very learned, playful and also sagely serious. He gave life his all and his all was backed by a seemingly endless well of energy. I would often joke with him that he was accomplishing more in retirement than most do in an entire lifetime.

A part of me still wants to deny the fact of his death, wants to imagine that he is still in sunny Arizona playing golf, teaching students, woodworking, writing, eating Karen’s wonderful Italian cooking, taking pictures of his cacti in bloom - and planning his next trip back to Seattle! Alas.

Thanks, Tom, for all the ways that you have touched so many lives, for all the ways that you have informed and profoundly influenced my own. You will be sorely missed, but your legacy lives on in each of us.

~ Carol Odell - friend and colleague