Tom Hammer, a business executive, philanthropist and a leader in many civic and historical groups, died Dec. 1 of progressive supranuclear palsy, a rare neurological disorder, his family said. He was 81.
An Alabama native who arrived in Sacramento at 12, Mr. Hammer was a pillar of the community for many years. After graduating from law school at UC Berkeley, he returned to the capital and opened a legal practice in 1961 with his boyhood friend and law school classmate, Earl Warren Jr.
In 1965, Mr. Hammer and his brother-in-law, Gordon T. MacAulay, became co-owners of Shasta Linen Supply. Hammer was chairman of the longtime family business at the time of his death. He was instrumental in growing the company into a top supplier of linens and uniforms for restaurants and medical institutions, and he was a national leader in textile industry associations.
Widely sought as a board member, he held leadership positions with major corporate and philanthropic organizations, including the Downtown Rotary Club of Sacramento, El Dorado Savings Bank, Mercy Foundation, Teichert Foundation and Teichert Inc. He served on the former Sacramento-Yolo Port District Commission and was a leader in efforts to consolidate Sacramento city and county governments.
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“He was a very modest person who didn’t blow his horn – he just did the work,” said Fred Teichert of the Teichert Foundation. “He did an amazing number of things and was very effective.”
Mr. Hammer embraced California and its rich heritage as a leader in local and state historical groups, including the California Historical Society, the Sacramento Trust for Historic Preservation and the Sacramento History Museum. He was credited with helping to revive the Sacramento Pioneer Association and with efforts to establish the California Railroad Museum and preserve the Old City Cemetery.
He celebrated the California outdoors as an avid backpacker with his family along the entire 215-mile John Muir Trail over several summers. He taught courses at California State University, Sacramento, on the state and national park systems, conservation legislation and the American wilderness.
“The story of California is very romantic, and Tom was fascinated by it,” friend Burnett Miller said. “He became somewhat of an authority on California history. He always told me that he regretted not having been a native Californian.”
Born in 1932 in Birmingham, Ala., Thomas Jacob Hammer Jr. moved with his family to Sacramento for his father’s job at an insurance company. He graduated from McClatchy High School in 1951 and UC Berkeley in 1955.
He served two years as an Army counterintelligence officer and earned a law degree from Boalt Hall at UC Berkeley in 1960. He married Phyllis MacAulay, had four daughters and practiced law for 25 years while helping run the linen supply business founded by his father-in-law Gordon A. MacAulay.
Mr. Hammer was an active man with a curious mind and adventurous spirit, his family and friends said. He took up running “well before there were such things as running shoes, so he would order some from a company in Australia,” his daughter Tanis McGregor said.
For many years, he was a fixture running in his neighborhood near Fair Oaks Boulevard and along the trail in the American River Parkway. He also packed his athletic shoes during travels around the world to many places off the beaten path, including Libya, Iran and Pakistan. As Rotary president in Sacramento, he led a project assisting an elementary school in Mauritius.
“More than most, Tom was really a world citizen,” Teichert said.
In addition to his wife of 60 years and McGregor, Mr. Hammer is survived by daughters Dayna Joonas, Noel Richardson and Katie Brown; a sister, Joanne Sheehy; a brother, Donald; 12 grandchildren; and one step-grandchild.
A private service is planned. A public reception is set for 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Dec. 19 at the Sutter Club, 1220 Ninth St., Sacramento. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Sacramento Region Community Foundation, www.sacregcf.org.
Call The Bee’s Robert D. Dávila, (916) 321-1077. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Davila.