Thomas W. Astle passed away peacefully at age 90 on January 30, 2021 at Branford Hospice.
Tom was born in Emporia, Kansas to W.P. “Buck” Astle and Rhea Astle. Rhea was a fifth grade school teacher and a prolific artist. Buck was a high school history teacher, high school and college football coach as well as a Big Ten Football referee and top official in the 1961 Orange Bowl and several Cotton Bowls.
Tom served as his class President and was Valedictorian at Peabody High School, Peabody KS, where he played football, basketball, and baseball. He continued athletics in college on the swimming and diving teams and received a BS in Engineering at Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) in Pittsburgh PA. He was a member of the ATO fraternity and ROTC. It was at Carnegie Tech where he met his future wife Joan Robison who was an architecture student in the first year they admitted women to that program. They married the summer after graduation in 1952 and Tom went into active duty in the Korean War the next day. Tom was a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army and received marksmanship awards, a Bronze Service Star, United Nations Service Medal and National Defense Service Medal.
Tom and Joan lived in Cleveland OH, in Buffalo and Fairport NY while Tom worked for Reliance Electric Co. and became a Mason, and settled in Orange CT in a home Joan designed and they had custom built in 1964. Tom’s creative engineering and carpentry skills allowed him to complete the interior of their new home and build all of their furniture including a unique dining room table with hot plates embedded in each setting, a motorized couch, a fish tank coffee table, a 12' x 14' slot car race track for the kids, and snooker table where Tom routinely schooled his guests. The basement is home to Tom’s elaborate workshop with his two story model railroad train track, two custom designed 6 ft wingspan control line planes and three kilns where every summer fired glass artwork was created. His building skills continued as he designed and built a custom camper that took his family on many trips to visit relatives, explore the west, and tailgate at Yale football games.
In 1967 Tom started his business (Astec initially, then changed to Tomtec in 1971) working with clients to solve their laboratory automation diagnostics and liquid handling needs. The first instruments were an essential element of Smith Kline’s rubella vaccine program. The company eventually grew out of the basement and into a 50,000 sq foot manufacturing facility with over 50 employees at its peak. With at least 27 patents to his name, industry recognition, worldwide distribution of products, and numerous conference lectures by Tom, Tomtec became a leader and respected name in automating pharmaceutical and bioanalytical research. Tom always enjoyed work, and as his mind and body began to decline, his thoughts continued to be with his company, his employees, and the clients who became treasured friends. His final futuristic vision began over a decade ago to pioneer a paradigm shift in the handling of liquid blood samples to the dried blood spot (DBS) bio-sampling. A bold move but Tom’s passion and genius led to partnering with government agencies and leading clinical labs around the world to challenge an industry standard on to a new front.
Tom loved his family, his friends and his dog Annie, creating artwork in many mediums, and spending time at the Paugusset Club where he was the social director for many years. He enjoyed showing off his diving talent at the Paugusset pool, playing tennis and dancing. He and Joan could really cut up the rug! He was the creator of the Firecracker Tennis tournament held July Fourth every year, with custom made trophies from his workshop, a coveted award. Tom and Joan loved hosting many social parties at their home with a wide variety of friends.
Tom is survived by his loving wife of over 68 years Joan, his children Richard “Dick” Astle of Chicago, Edward “Ed” (Alice) Astle of NH, and Diane (Andy) Strait of New York City; his four grandchildren Sarah and Samantha Astle, Dylan and Lea Bagley; nephew Kevin Astle and nieces Marcell Astle and Joy (Jim) Santner and two grandnieces. He was preceded in death by his parents, brother John Richard “Dick” Astle and sister-in-law Emily Christine “Chris” Astle of Fort Collins, CO.