It will be the rare Daily Citizen reader who knows the complete history of this publication’s noble heritage. DC is the grandchild of Citizen magazine which debuted in October 1987 as a humble two-color newsletter. Years later, it grew into a full-color, influential magazine that was read around the world. With the evolution of how we all consume media now, it is the online version you enjoy today.
Tom Minnery, who abruptly went to be with Jesus on Christmas Eve as a result of a tragic ice-skating accident while visiting family, was the founding editor of Focus on the Family’s Citizen magazine. Here is Tom’s inaugural Citizen column, which he entitled “Off and Running.” Yes, we were.
In this first column, Tom explains a meeting he had with Dr. James Dobson in Southern California at the Focus on the Family headquarters to simply thank him for help with a book he had just published on the scourge of pornography. The meeting quickly became much more. The two men developed the idea for a public policy magazine that would direct, educate and encourage Christians to become more engaged citizens for the sake of enduring pro-family policy.
Tom explained in that first Citizen column in late 1987, “Dr. Dobson and I talked about the possibility of a newsletter or magazine to help satisfy the evident need for more information on how people might learn about – and be involved in – these issues” that are so pressing to the health of our families and our nation. Tom announced, “The result of that meeting, and many meetings since, is the magazine you are holding” speaking of this relatively simple, but ground-breaking newsletter. This is what that first issue, that Tom very likely wrote by himself in its entirety, looked like. It was created at the precise moment that our national politics were turning disgustingly ugly, evidenced in the shameful rail-roading of Judge Robert Bork.
In his first column, Tom explained,
I could take up pages explaining the purpose and philosophy of this publication, but I couldn’t improve on Proverbs 11:11, which says, ‘The good influence of godly citizens causes a city to prosper, but the moral decay of the wicked drives it downhill.’
Tom ended that column with these encouraging words which still hold true today and serve as the foundation of the Daily Citizen,
And succeed he did. A few of us at the Daily Citizen had the immense privilege of working at Tom’s side for decades. The others who came later have unknowingly benefited from his quiet but powerful legacy.
But Tom Minnery did much more than launch Citizen magazine. He founded and ran an entire department at Focus on the Family which educated and mobilized citizens to pass wise public policy at the state and federal level. Tom faithfully served both Dr. Dobson and Jim Daly closely in that role until Focus on the Family launched its public policy effort into a fully independent effort through a new organization called Citizenlink in October 2013. Tom served as President and CEO of Citizenlink until his retirement. Hundreds of extremely talented employees worked for Tom through the years in Focus on the Family’s Public Policy department and a handful of them have kindly shared their reflections below.
(Jim Daly, Tom Minnery and Stuart Shepard doing election coverage)
After retirement in October of 2017, Tom and his wife Deb moved back to their native Ohio. An absolute hoard of old and new staffers helped load up their moving truck and sent them off with sad tears and grateful blessings. Both Tom and Deb remained active in public policy work at the local and national level, while still reserving plenty of time to visit their growing family of three children and seven grandchildren that were spread across the country.
Tom and Deb were doing just that last week, visiting their daughter’s family in Albuquerque, New Mexico, when tragedy struck. They were supposed to fly home to Ohio for Christmas, but the frigid cold snap that blanketed much of the nation forced Tom and Deb to stay. They seized the additional family time and went ice-skating with the grandkids. Tragically, Tom fell suddenly on the ice, suffering a major injury to his head. He never regained consciousness, passing from earth to heaven at sunset on Christmas Eve. All who worked with Tom were devastated to hear of our collective loss, but we also rejoice in Tom’s great gain. He celebrated our Savior’s birth in person this week.
Tom never aspired to be a national figure, but he faithfully served right alongside many of this movement’s brightest and most influential lights. As Jim Daly recollects over at his blog, Tom served as Christianity Today’s news editor early in his career as a journalist where he was mentored by Dr. Billy Graham, the world-renowned evangelist who started the magazine in 1956. Jim also explains, “Tom served as Dr. Dobson’s ‘wingman’ of sorts in the policy arena” remaining busy between Colorado Springs, every state capital across the nation as well as Washington D.C.
Tom was also extremely influential in the founding the highly consequential Alliance Defense Fund (ADF, now Alliance Defending Freedom). You can read their tribute to Tom here. Tom served that organization’s founding from the days it was merely a great idea scribbled on a napkin. He was an original board member for decades, serving alongside Dr. Dobson, Campus Crusade founder Bill Bright, popular financial advisor Larry Burkett, and Coral Ridge Ministries’ Dr. James Kennedy. Tom served as Board Chairman of ADF multiple times, including the critical transition of leadership from their founding president Alan Sears to their second, Michael Farris.
At the time of his untimely death, Tom was tremendously honored to be the President Emeritus of Family Policy Alliance, as well as serving on the board of the Center for Christian Virtue in Ohio. Tom also wrote the influential book, Why You Can’t Stay Silent: A Biblical Mandate to Shape Our Culture (Tyndale, 2002) which makes the compelling case why all Christians are called to engage the culture in which God has placed them.
Tom did that, and he did so quietly but powerfully. He will be greatly missed and we mourn for his family. But we also rejoice in the difference he made in all our lives, and our great nation. But ultimately, we find our comfort in the joy Tom is experiencing now in the presence of our Savior.
Below are some loving reflections from a few of Tom’s Focus on the Family colleagues through the decades…
Statesman. Seminarian. Historian. Author. Humorist. Leader. Pickleball player. Friend.
There are countless words that describe the complexity and depths of Tom Minnery.
I had the privilege of serving Tom in Focus’ Public Policy division from 1991-2014 when he moved to Citizenlink (Focus’ allied organization).
During that time, we defended family, marriage, and life in countless policy battles at the local, state, national and international levels and represented Focus’ positions in hundreds of media interviews.
Few men in our lifetime have influenced pro-family public policy in this way, leaving a legacy that is impossible to quantify. There’s a sense of grief mingled with glory as we process the shock of Tom’s sudden relocation to Heaven, yet knowing he is finally home.
- Carrie Earll, Senior Director of Public Policy after Tom’s retirement and long-time Life Issues Analyst in Focus’ Public Policy department
One story captures Tom’s heart: A rather aggressive LGBT-activist group (Soulforce) had gotten permission from the city to block off the street in front of Focus on the Family’s headquarters. They set up a big stage, projection screen, lights, sound system and rows of chairs right there on the pavement. Busloads of protesters were brought in. Campus security was on high alert. Due to safety concerns, we were discouraged from wading into the crowd.
Well, as a reporter, I’ve been to more than a few protests, so I slipped down there briefly to take photographs from the sidewalk. I witnessed a surreal party atmosphere, punctuated with speeches detailing why Focus was not just wrong, but evil, followed by cheering and applause. After a few minutes snapping photos, I looked up to see one other Focus employee casually walking through the crowd like he was on a stroll in his neighborhood: Tom Minnery.
Every now and then, he would stop and engage in polite conversation with a protester, while listening with genuine interest to their opinion. He sincerely wanted to know what they had to say. It mattered to him. They mattered, as people.
I remember chuckling to myself, because I’m quite certain not one of the protesters realized they were chatting one-on-one with the senior vice president of public policy for Focus on the Family. The organization they were convinced was evil.
And that was Tom: Fearless, bold — and kind. He didn’t see people with a different opinion as enemies; he saw precious individuals made in God’s image who needed grace exactly as much as he did.
- Stuart Shepard, former Senior Director of Public Policy Media at Focus, 1999-2017, current Multimedia Director at First Liberty Institute
As someone who worked closely with men such as Billy Graham and Dr. Dobson, Tom was widely known and respected throughout the evangelical community and pro-family movement, and accomplished in his own right. A kind, thoughtful and humble man, Tom drew others to himself – and to the work he dedicated his life to – through his compassion for others, steadfastness to the Truth and wonderful, dry sense of humor.
But it was his ability to lead quietly by example and connect deeply on a personal level that I remember most across the 21 years I knew him.
Shortly after my own father’s passing a couple years ago, Tom gently shared with me that though my family and I would miss him through the rest of our lives, for my dad that time would go by in a blink – he would look over his shoulder and we’d all be reunited in eternity.
And so it will be for all those who knew and loved Tom, especially his dear wife Deb, his children and grandchildren, and those of us who were so fortunate to co-labor with him for a nation where God is honored, religious freedom flourishes, families thrive and life is cherished.
- Sonja Swiatkiewicz, former Senior Director of Issues Response & Administration, Public Policy 2001-2013, current Chief of Staff, Family Policy Alliance
Tom’s tutelage and example made me a better advocate, leader and follower of Christ. He fought ceaselessly for families, and for his “family” he shepherded at Focus. His droll sense of humor regularly redeemed difficult days.
After I was named vice president of communications for the ministry, he volunteered to meet with me weekly to help me navigate the role of an executive at Focus. And even though the org chart now said we were peers, he wanted to ensure I continued to grow and succeed. That’s the wise, kind, humble man Tom Minnery was.
- Gary Schneeberger, Citizen magazine 2000 to 2003; Director of Public Policy Media 2004-2007; VP, Focus on the Family Communications, 2008-2012
When I started my career as federal policy analyst at Focus on the Family, I was a 22-year-old recent college graduate. For four years, I had the honor and privilege of working under Tom’s leadership to advance pro-family public policy in Washington, D.C., mostly from our offices in Colorado Springs and of course over the airwaves of the Focus on the Family daily radio broadcast. As I reflect on that wonderful experience, what sticks out to me the most is the respect with which Tom treated me and his gentle, wise leadership of the team.
I was far from Tom’s equal–he was a seasoned journalist, political analyst, and organization leader, while I was a young woman just beginning her career with a LOT to learn. Despite these differences, Tom was always encouraging and uplifting, building my confidence and my credentials.
As God would have it, about a decade after leaving Focus, I would be reunited with Tom in Tucson, Arizona where he led the first Statesmen Academy for state legislators. This event took place after I had served one year as Indiana state senator, my husband Jim had served five years in the same role, and he was running for U.S. Congress.
That week left a unique impact on both my husband’s career and on our marriage. We kept in touch with Tom and Deb following the Academy–or I should say, they kept in touch with us with encouraging words and prayer support as Jim’s service in Congress progressed. A few years later, I was amazed when the opportunity arose for me to direct the Statesmen Academy after Tom had retired. I am humbled to carry on Tom’s legacy in this position now, training and equipping Christian men and women serving in public office.
- Amanda Banks, former Federal policy analyst 2003-2007, current VP, Education, Family Policy Foundation
During a 12-year hiatus from a career in financial markets, I was privileged to become Tom Minnery’s Chief of Staff for Public Policy at Focus on the Family. As such, Tom and I interacted many times each day on issues big and small.
Tom was a true, but quiet visionary, as witnessed by the continued existence of many public policy organizations and initiatives he helped start and grow. And I cannot imagine working for a person who better equipped a multi-talented staff with far reaching visions of the possible as Tom. He also richly blessed those around him with guidance, mentorship, graceful correction, the resources to succeed and the freedom for creative problem solving and personal growth.
At the same time, Tom was a treasured friend and one of the finest men God ordained me to know. His character qualities were both wide and deep. It was truly an honor for me to have worked with and known Tom Minnery.
- Peter Brandt, Chief of Staff 1995 – 2008
When I first met Tom, I had taken a position as an administrative assistant for another Focus executive. Mr. Minnery was always kind, but he seemed larger than life. As I moved to different positions in public policy, Tom became so much more than the Vice President who sat behind the door to the executive wing. He encouraged us. He admonished us. He supported the work we were doing. He also laughed with us.
I remember him bringing in his yearbooks to prove that he was, indeed, a cheerleader at one time! As time moved on and Family Policy Alliance was formed, Tom became even more special. He was so interested in what was happening in our lives and I always knew that when he said he was praying, he meant it. I saw him a couple of years ago, by chance, in the library. He was in town for a visit since moving to Ohio and had an hour or two to kill. With Tom you always felt you were the only person in the world when he spoke to you.
He taught me how to lead with dignity and purpose and to stand for my values even when it seemed the whole world was against me. He taught me what marriage could be with his love and caring attitude toward Deb. And he taught me how to live for Christ in every single area of my life. I will miss him — but I can’t wait to catch up when I see him again one day. I’m sure he’ll have an anecdote or two to share!
- Kim Trobee, former Director/Host Family News in Focus, current Regional Representative, Focus on the Family Parenting and Youth department
Tom was an important mentor when I joined the Focus team in my mid-20’s as a reporter for Citizen magazine. He would sometimes come to my desk and say, “If there’s one job I would love to be doing—it’s yours.” He loved reporting and writing and the process of taking a publication through the publishing cycle. All of us who worked with him knew the intensity Tom brought to the job. After every conversation with him, I left reminded that every moment, every dollar, every effort we put forth in this cause matters and we must give it our best.
My wife, Linda, who wrote the Hometown Heroes section of Citizen for many years, recalls his quick smile and his deep love for his family.
We both feel a deep sense of gratitude for Tom and the time he invested in us and the attention he gave, even though we played small roles on the team. I’m thankful that a man with his wisdom, patience and abilities was leading Focus on the Family public policy efforts for so long. His influence will certainly have a lasting impact on pro-family policy for decades to come.
- Mike Ebert, former Special Projects Editor, Citizen magazine 1991 – 1995, current Executive Director, Public Relations, North American Mission Board, Southern Baptist Convention
As a public spokesperson for Focus on the Family, I had more opportunities than most to get myself into trouble. On several occasions, I was privileged to explain my words or actions behind the closed door of Tom’s office. He listened without predetermined judgment and allowed me to talk my way back into the ministry’s good graces.
I did, however, incur Tom’s opprobrium at least once. After planning and executing a particularly reverent staff Christmas party, Tom rebuked me for taking the fun out of it! He wanted to laugh more. Looking back, I see that he was right. Dealing with the daily burden of weighty issues took its toll on all of us. I love that Tom wanted to create a festive, restorative atmosphere for his staff. Even as I grieve with his friends and family over the Earth’s loss of a great man, I am comforted by the picture of Tom whooping it up at the Wedding Feast that never ends.
- Daniel Weiss, Senior Analyst for Media and Sexuality 2002-2011
It was a true privilege to have served under Tom’s leadership in the Public Policy division of Focus on the Family for many years. I was given the opportunity to serve Tom’s shared vision for carrying out the biblical mandate to shape our culture with kingdom values. Tom’s kind and soft-spoken demeanor, wedded to deep Christian conviction and commitment, was a model to emulate. I also was privileged to have Tom as a neighbor, and we often met each other while out for a morning run. He always embraced me with a wide and welcoming smile. It is good to know that he, too, has been welcomed by the same heaven-ward greeting.
- Larry Burtoft, Community Impact Seminar presenter; Human Sexuality Analyst 1992-2002
When Tom first hired me at Focus on the Family, I was very intimidated by him. He had hired me to be the federal policy analyst but was so knowledgeable he could have done my job twice over in his sleep.
Tom had been modeling how to speak truth in love publicly and boldly for many years on social issues before I came on the scene. He handled opposing views with a lot of grace, which was beautiful to see. But he was also refreshingly fearless. And in our line of work, with angry critics abounding, even death threats at times, you had to be fearless.
But one of my favorite stories about Tom is the day I saw him pick up trash.
We had just finished an outdoor press conference that many important congressmen and policymakers had attended. I and a coworker were tasked with cleanup and tear down after the presser.
I just expected Tom to be on his way after the press conference like every other leader did that day. I knew he had other meetings to attend.
Instead, Tom began walking around picking up trash, making sure the area of the press conference was left spotless. He didn’t ask for my help. He didn’t tell me he was going to clean. He just started picking up.
I will never forget that moment, because here we were in the seat of power in Washington, D.C., with some of the most powerful and influential policy makers in the country—Tom among them—and he was more focused performing a menial task than he was running off to the next important meeting. He simply wasn’t going to leave us there to clean up the place by ourselves.
It both surprised and humbled me. I had worked in Washington, D.C. for two years prior and had never seen a political or policy leader stay behind to help clean up after any meeting. What an example of servant leadership.
But that was who Tom was. And his servant’s heart and his godly leadership will be greatly missed.
See you in heaven, boss.
- Ashley Shaw, Federal policy analyst 2007-2012
God accomplished a lot through Tom Minnery. He reached high levels of influence and was exceptionally skilled. But, to me, what made Tom truly great was his humility and kindness. He was a gentleman, even when the cameras weren’t rolling. Here’s one small example.
Back in 2008, I was the public relations manager for Focus on the Family Action. We were hosting a news conference at the U.S. Capitol, urging legislators against funding abortion with taxpayer money through the Affordable Care Act. Accompanying Tom at the podium were U.S. senators and congresspeople — and box after heavy box after box of petitions signed by pro-life Americans.
After the event, it was time to tear the stage down and move the boxes. My colleague and I got to work in the hot sun.
As soon as Tom finished up his conversations, he came towards us. Without any fanfare or pretention, he quietly took his suit jacket off, rolled up his sleeves, and got to work alongside us. Not only did Tom help us to take everything down and walk it to the curb, but he hailed us a cab, helped us load it up, and politely asked the driver to “make sure you take good care of these ladies” while giving him a tip.
I don’t know of many other senior vice presidents or organization heads who would so humbly go the extra mile to help, especially when no one was looking. But Tom Minnery did, because servant leadership was the core of who Tom was.
That simple act has stayed with me all these years because it gave me an early glimpse into Tom’s integrity and character. I will always have great admiration and the deepest respect for Tom, a brother in Christ who truly cared for his team and lived out what he believed.
- Monica Schleicher, Director of Public Relations Strategy 2007-2017