Douglas County Engineer Tom Doyle held the office 39 years before his death at age 91

A public service career that spanned more than a half-century

By: - August 9, 2022 4:00 am
Tom Doyle

Tom Doyle, Douglas County Engineer, died Saturday at age 91. (Courtesy of Doyle family)

Days before his 36th birthday, a young Democrat Tom Doyle was tapped by Republican Gov. Norbert Tiemann to be Nebraska’s labor commissioner.

Doyle would move on to be the state engineer, serve as an elected state lawmaker and in 1983 stepped into the role of Douglas County engineer, a position he was elected to nine times and held for 39 years.

Indeed, Doyle’s public service career spanned more than a half century — and he remained an elected official until his death Saturday at age 91.

Tom Doyle campaign flier
Tom Doyle saw a lively race in 1986 but won handily in subsequent elections. (Courtesy of Doyle family)

All walks of life

Colleagues remember him as a sharp, firm, yet easy-going leader beloved by people from many different walks of life.

“Tom had a real good political mind and the ability to work well with people,” said Ben Nelson, a former Nebraska governor and U.S. senator. “That made him a very valuable part of the team.”

Nelson said he and Doyle served together in the cabinet of Gov. Jim Exon but knew each other from the days they helped campaign for Frank Morrison, who served as Nebraska governor from 1961-67.

 “That’s quite a period of service,” Nelson said of Doyle, who suffered from congestive heart failure. “He could have done anything else, but that’s what he chose, to serve the people well.”

Mark Doyle, who followed his father into public service, said his dad’s ease in connecting with people was rooted in his wide-ranging life experiences filled with a good share of bumps.

Tom told his kids that the childhood years he lived in the Southside Terrace housing projects saved the lives of him, his two brothers and their mom.

Southside Terrace, Golden Gloves, packinghouse

They had moved from home to home before stabilizing several years in the South Omaha housing development, where rent was more affordable. Though the area was segregated, Tom had friends of different races.

He became a teen champ in a lightweight division in the Midwest Golden Gloves, graduated from Omaha South High School and worked in the packinghouses.

He got his college degree while working and raising a family with his late wife, Anna Rose “Nuni,” of 52 years. The couple have five children.

Mary Ann Borgeson, chair of the Douglas County Board and a county commissioner for 28 years, said Doyle was one of the longest,  if not the longest, serving Douglas County official in an elected post.

(Sam Howell Jr., father of the late Anne Boyle,  served as county treasurer for 38 years through 1992.)

‘Wealth of knowledge’

On behalf of the county, Borgeson offered condolences to the family and said Doyle will be sorely missed. 

“He was a friend. He was so easy-going. And the wealth of knowledge and information he had, not just because of his position, but on the history of Douglas County, was phenomenal,” Borgeson said.

She said she would talk to Doyle for hours about issues including possible government merger and road issues. 

“He was just a one-of-a-kind public servant all around,” said Borgeson.

Doyle’s appointment as state labor commissioner  in March 1967 launched his public career. He was appointed county engineer in March 1983. Mark said his dad had a lively race in 1986 but handily won re-election every four years after that. He did not run for re-election to the post that voters will decide on in November.

Applause from retirees

He served so long that he resided at Aksarben Village Senior Living when he won his last election. Residents, buoyed by the victory of a fellow senior, gave him a round of applause.

Doyle’s legacy is marked also by a family that includes two former elected officials, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. “Most importantly, he was a devoted husband and father that was a best friend to each family member,” said Mark’s wife, Aldona.

Mark said his dad took joy in joining in on friendly political debates and talking about current events. He kept a journal and jotted down inspirational quotes and thoughts.

“His body wore out,” Mark said. “It just could not keep up with his mind.”

A funeral service is scheduled for held Friday at St. Gerald Catholic Church in Ralston.

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Cindy Gonzalez
Cindy Gonzalez

Senior Reporter Cindy Gonzalez, an Omaha native, has more than 35 years of experience, largely at the Omaha World-Herald. Her coverage areas have included business and real estate development; regional reporting; immigration, demographics and diverse communities; and City Hall and local politics.

Nebraska Examiner is part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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