Thomas M. Tierney, 82, pilot, Medicare director

May 20, 2001

Thomas M. Tierney, a highly decorated World War II fighter pilot who went on to head the Medicare system under four presidents, died Friday of cancer in the Hospice of Baltimore.

A resident of Winthrop House apartments in Charles Village, he was 82.

Mr. Tierney was born in Colorado Springs, Colo., and reared in Denver, his home for many years, before moving to Towson in 1967 to take over Medicare, which was then based at the Social Security Administration.

After graduating from the University of Notre Dame, he entered the Army Air Forces in 1942, flying combat missions over Europe for the next three years with the celebrated 9th Air Force.

On one mission, his plane was badly damaged by enemy fire. But Mr. Tierney managed to limp back to England, where he crash- landed at an airfield when one of his wings disintegrated. For that he received the Purple Heart - one of many medals he amassed during the war. Among others were the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with 13 oak-leaf clusters and the French Croix de Guerre.

Discharged as a lieutenant colonel, he returned to Colorado, received his law degree from the University of Denver and served as president of Colorado Blue Cross from 1957 to 1967.

During this period, he was heavily involved in civic ventures - heading the 1965 United Way campaign, the Denver Rotary Club and the board of trustees of Loretto Heights College.

In 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson tapped him to head the administration's new Medicare program for the elderly and disabled.

Mr. Tierney held the post for the next 11 years, before becoming a regional commissioner for the Social Security Administration and, eventually, a health claims arbitrator for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

His family will hold private services tomorrow morning.

Mr. Tierney is survived by his wife of 58 years, the former Betty Ruth Fairall; four sons, Patrick J. Tierney of Stamford, Conn., Thomas M. Tierney Jr. of Seattle, Dennis B. Tierney of Salt Lake City and John T. Tierney of Boston; and six grandchildren.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.