Thomas C. Westropp, WWII Veteran (Marines) formerly of Cleveland, died March 2, 2022, in South Burlington, VT. Mr. Westropp presided over a nationally pioneering Cleveland financial institution even as he simultaneously pursued a uniquely far-flung parallel career as a volunteer in professional, religious and civic affairs.
As president and later chairman of the board of Women's Federal Savings Bank, he helped steer the steep growth of an institution established in 1922 by his Aunts Lillian and Clara Westropp. Famed as the country's first women-owned Savings & Loan, for decades it occupied an unique niche in community mortgage lending, largely staffed and operated by women. Forty years after its establishment, seven of its nine directors were women.
Over the years, Mr. Westropp, in addition to shouldering the burdens of his primary job and his large family, also found time for liberal doses of volunteerism. No doubt influenced by the activist matriarch of the family, his Aunt Lillian - a veteran of the women's suffrage movement and later a lawyer and a judge - he chaired such groups as the National Peace Institute Foundation and served as a trustee, chairman or president for a wide array of other philanthropic organizations.
He was born in Cleveland May 25, 1925 to parents whose families shared a striking symmetry. Both his mother's side, the Champions, and his father's, the Westropps, first came to Cleveland in the 1840's - the former from Massachusetts and the latter from Limerick, Ireland. His father's uncle, Patrick Westropp, once served as mayor of Collinwood Village and played a role in its annexation by the City of Cleveland, and a relative on the same side, Maj. General Victor Westropp, served with General Dwight Eisenhower during World War II in London and later managed the Berlin airlift. His paternal grandmother Clara was a member of the Stoeckel family. Her Uncle Gustof founded the Music School at Yale.
His mother grew up on E. 68th Street, his father on W. 68th in Cleveland. After marrying, the couple first raised their family in the western suburb of Rocky River, before moving east to Cleveland Heights when Tom was 11.
From the age of six, Mr. Westropp, the oldest of three boys, always held down an income-producing job. He sold newspapers before he could make change, relying on his customers' honesty to take the proper change from his purse. The proceeds went to help support the family during the Depression. "In the early days, we emptied our money into a cookie jar, and my mother would go to the jar for shopping money", he would later recall. His father was a contractor who had difficulty securing supplies during World War II, and later opened a territory in the suburb of Euclid for John Hancock Insurance Company.
He graduated from Cathedral Latin High School, where he was the first student conductor of the school's marching band, before attending John Carroll University. He later studied at New York University's graduate School of Business.
As a United States Marine, Mr. Westropp served in World War II. As the war was coming to a close in the Pacific Theatre in 1945, he found himself on the island of Okinawa, a jumping-off point for the final assault on Japan. He volunteered for that invasion, which eventually became unnecessary after the Japanese surrender following the dropping of two U.S. Atomic bombs. Later, he served on active duty as a staff sergeant during the Korean War.
At the conclusion of his military service in 1951, Mr. Westropp joined Women's Federal, where he had first worked as an office boy while still in high school. In the 1950's, he began a swift ascent up the corporate ladder, first managing the construction loan department and later opening the first branch office in University Heights. In 1958, he was named executive vice president. From there, he became president in 1965 and chairman of the board in 1981. (His Aunt Clara worked at Women's Federal until her death in 1965 and Lillian until hers, in 1968).
Over the years, Women's Federal was known for its humane, visionary management style, leavened with a dose of spirituality. When it opened a new branch in 1963, national television star Bishop Fulton Sheen was on hand to help celebrate. The Westropp sisters, devout Catholics who provided an on-site chapel for their staff, helped underwrite Sheen's popular television program. In 1971, the institution again attracted wide attention by establishing a Black-run branch on the east side of Cleveland, possibly becoming the first banking institution in the country to do so. "With this example being set by Mr. Westropp's institution", said then-Cleveland Mayor Carl Stokes, the first Black mayor of a major American city, "we should be able to get others to follow suit".
Mr. Westropp retired from the institution in 1984, having seen it grow from a single location and $25 million in assets at the beginning of his career to a $650-million operation with 15 branches by the end. Nine years later, it was acquired by Charter One Bank.
For all his prominence in financial services, in some quarters he was equally well-known for his abundant volunteer activities. Over the years, he variously served as a trustee or director of St. Vincent Charity Hospital, Notre Dame College of Ohio and University Circle. He presided over Catholic Charities and the Federation for Community Planning. He co-chaired the bond-issue campaign for Cleveland's Justice Center and served as alumni chairman for John Carroll University's capital campaign.
Among Mr. Westropp's proudest moments were being knighted into the Knights of Malta in 1972 by Terence Cardinal Cooke at New York's majestic St. Patrick's Cathedral and a 1968 White House meeting with President Lyndon Johnson. The Catholic Church's honor was in recognition of his many contributions as a lay volunteer. His White House visit was to lobby for additional funding for inner-city home building on behalf of the United States League of Savings Associations, for which he served as chairman of the Urban Affairs Committee at the time.
Mr. Westropp's charitable work was also recognized by awards from the Catholic Interracial Council, the Cleveland Area Board of Realtors and the National Committee for Civic Responsibilities, among many others.
He is survived by his children: Mary Westropp, JoAnn Howley (Lee), Clare Evancie (John), Jordan Westropp (Liz), Lillian Tuholske, John Westropp, Peter Westropp, Ellen Quinn (Greg), Patrick Westropp (Jessica) and Rachel Malone (Rory); 15 grandchildren and 8 great grandchildren.
He was predeceased by his beloved partner of 41 years and mother of Rachel Malone, Cheryl Ann Reynolds, his cherished son, Thomas, Jr., his son in law, Jack Tuholske, and his wife and mother of his first 10 children, Mary Ann Westropp.
The Westropp Family would like to thank the staff of Reflections at The Residence at Quarry Hill and Bayada Hospice care for their compassionate care of our father at the end of his life.
Donations in his memory can be made to Doctors Without Borders ( https://doctorswithoutborders.org/ )
A joint Funeral Mass will be held for Thomas and Cheryl at Church of the Gesu, 2470 Miramar Blvd., University Hts., OH 44118 on Saturday, March 5th at 11 AM. FRIENDS MAY CALL AT BROWN-FORWARD, 17022 CHAGRIN BLVD., SHAKER HTS., OH 44120 ON SATURDAY, MARCH 5TH FROM 9:30 TO 10:30 AM. Interment Calvary Cemetery, where a Committal Ceremony will be held immediately following the Mass. This service will be live streamed.