A Former Newsboy Spends A Lifetime Delivering


12/13/2017

Alumni Profile

As a newspaper delivery boy in his hometown of Springfield, Illinois, Tom Higgins '67 often got his route started just about the time an older brother finished his.

"I remember folding newspapers as a boy and slowing down to at least read the headlines," he recalled. "My brother could get his whole route delivered by the time I got done folding my papers. My parents just rolled their eyes."

That same brand of methodical curiosity has allowed Higgins to experience more than a dozen job titles since he graduated from St. Ambrose.

His distinguished and distinctive resume includes such impressive assignments as: three-term member of the Iowa House of Representatives; commissioner of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare; senior White House staff member under President Jimmy Carter; co-founder and editor-in-chief of the national publication Healthweek; senior vice president of Blue Cross/Blue Shield in Maryland; senior vice president of Southern California Edison and Edison International; and founding CEO and current chairman of the board of Prosetta Biosciences.

That's just a sampling. Higgins' history includes considerably more titles, each filled with challenge, discovery and opportunity for personal and professional growth. Through it all, he has found time to serve on various boards, including, since 2008, that of his alma mater.

In every capacity, professional or philanthropic, Higgins has been energized by that newsboy's curious nature, and, more importantly, driven by a devotion to social justice honed at St. Ambrose.

tom higgins and sister joan

He is deepening his commitment to the University by helping to fund, found and create the Institute for Person-Centered Care at St. Ambrose, an initiative whose ambitious goal is to improve and humanize health care delivery in the Quad Cities and well beyond.

Higgins also is helping the College of Health and Human Services launch a Master of Public Health degree program that will extend the University's vision for social justice and service into healthcare policy and practice.

"St. Ambrose has a number of distinguishing characteristics, but if I were to pick the one that most frequently comes to mind, it is that social justice mission," Higgins said. "That's the reason I am so devoted to St. Ambrose really - because of the examples I saw here as a student. There was a commitment, not only to education, but also to the community.

"I'm sure every Ambrose grad might say this of his or her time on campus, but there were great people there," he added. "There were always these remarkable faculty around and one of the biggest parts of my experience is what I learned from classmates and their experiences."

Higgins said his hunger for knowledge was increased by SAU classroom icons such as Matt McMahon, Sister Ritamary Bradley, John Norton and Rev. Joseph Kokjohn.

His instinct to fight for justice was sharpened by the activism of Rev. Jack Smith and Wayne and Nora DeJohn.

His immense capacity for caring was informed by the genuine decency of Rev. William "Digger" Dawson.

Within a couple years of graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science, Higgins was directing an unheralded candidate's near-miss campaign for Iowa governor. Within four years, he was establishing a drug crisis intervention clinic in downtown Davenport that ultimately would lead to the creation of the QC Council on Drug Abuse.

On January 20, 1981, not yet 14 years out of college, he was carrying the last box of books from his office situated directly above the Oval Office. When he walked out of the White House, Higgins turned for a last look and saw the lonely figures of the outgoing president and his chief of staff talking on the telephone.

"They were wrapping up the last pieces of the agreement with Iran to release the hostages," he said of an indelible moment in U.S. history. "I got in my car, drove out the gate and kept going."

A curious, driven and devoted Ambrosian, Tom Higgins hasn't stopped going since.

— By Craig DeVrieze '16 MOL

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