Lori Sturdevant: Toasting Tom Gillaspy

/ 7 March 2012 / jennifer

Lori Sturdevant, Star Tribune, March 7, 2012 –

Chances are good that you’ve occasionally thought about the changes that are coming as Minnesota’s population ages and becomes more diverse.

Chances are also good that your thinking has been inspired by the words and work of state demographer Tom Gillaspy.

Scores of media interviews, legislative hearing appearances and an average of 150 speeches a year have made Gillaspy as much an educator as a numbers-cruncher. He’s the popular professor whose courses always fill first.

About 150 grateful “students” assembled Tuesday in St. Paul to salute and gently roast Gillaspy on his last day on the job. He has retired after almost 33 years of service.

A Texas native, Gillaspy was trained as an economist as well as a demographer. He’s become an authority on the economic implications of an aging and increasingly diverse workforce.

As the shorter half of the “Two Toms” speaking duo, Gillaspy teamed up with state economist Tom Stinson in recent years to help Minnesotans understand the “new normal” that is dawning in the wake of the Great Recession.

(Stinson one-upped Gillaspy on Tuesday by stealing his sidekick’s well-worn laugh line: “I’ve discovered that on average, people age one year every 12 months.”)

Gillaspy’s analyses, genially delivered in a fading Texas drawl, have brought demographic considerations to bear on a host of state policy questions, from early education to elder care.

A sample of his wit appears in the only partially facetious “Not Yet Gazette” his office issued in 1994, projecting headlines for 2025.

Among them: “Are ElderDorms Homes or Prisons for Old People?” forecasting a projected surge in poverty among the elderly, and “Minnesota Counties Are Now Down to 42,” forecasting local government consolidation in the face of mounting financial pressure and urbanization.

Gillaspy’s successor, Susan Brower, a former research associate at the Wilder Foundation, will be only the third state demographer since the position was created in 1974.

The first occupant of the position was Hazel Reinhardt, who went on to a career as a researcher and pollster for this newspaper and as a consultant to a host of organizations. Gillaspy followed her visible, quotable example in office. I’m rooting for him to do the same in retirement.


Lori Sturdevant is Star Tribune editorial writer and columnist.