Thomas Nicholson
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Thomas Nicholson
  • June 24, 1930 - January 14, 2018
  • Charlottesville, Virginia

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Thomas Francis Nicholson, 87, of Charlottesville, passed away on January 14, 2018. Thomas was born on June 24, 1930, in Boston, to the late Thomas Ignatius and Helen Healy Nicholson. Mr. Nicholson was a partner of West*Group, a leading real estate development, construction, and property management firm with projects in Fairfax and Montgomery Counties. West*Group became the original developers of over 560 acres in then-rural Tysons Corner. From the 1990s, until its sale in 2010, West*Group also re-developed the area through an ambitious, high-density urban planning and mass transit scheme. Together with his partners at West*Group, Charles Ewing Jr, Gerald Halpin, and Rudolph Seeley, Mr. Nicholson played a significant role in Fairfax County's transformation into an international economic and educational powerhouse.
Mr. Nicholson was a graduate of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, Class of '50, earning a Chief Engineer's license. He served as a U.S. Navy lieutenant, becoming one of the youngest commissioned naval officers at that time. He received his MBA from Harvard Business School, Class of '56, where he co-founded the International Club with the patronage of his HBS professor, Georges Doriot, a pioneer in the field of global venture capital. Throughout his life, Mr. Nicholson was inspired by Doriot's vision of HBS graduates as ethical, creative leaders with the "vision of things to be done."
Soon after graduation, Mr. Nicholson held an executive position at Atlantic Research Corporation in Alexandria where he met his future partners in Westpark (later West*Group). Through this partnership, Mr. Nicholson played a leading role in the remarkable history of Tysons, as it grew from rural farmland in the 1960s to a tech, defense, and commercial hub which, by 1985, had become "the Washington area's Main Street," according to The Washington Post.
Among his peers, Mr. Nicholson was known for his astute judgment, gentlemanly demeanor, and his compelling vision of Northern Virginia's future. Mr. Nicholson served on the board of World Resources Corp. and also on the board of United Virginia Bank, renamed Crestar, the largest Virginia bank at the time it was acquired by Suntrust Banks in 1998. He was a director of the Greater Washington Board of Trade. With his partners Mr. Ewing and Mr. Halpin, he received a Core Values award in 2003 acknowledging West*Group's pivotal contributions to the INOVA Health System. In 2007, Mr. Nicholson received an honorary doctorate in public administration from Gov. Deval Patrick at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, in recognition of both his philanthropic and business accomplishments.
Mr. Nicholson's philanthropy reflected his lifelong interests in international leadership, the arts, education, and healthcare. Mr. Nicholson was vice-chair of the board at the Irish American Partnership, an international organization dedicated to leadership and educational development in the Republic of Ireland.
He was an enthusiastic supporter of the new Carnegie Arts Centre in Kenmare, Co. Kerry, and other cultural organizations, both in the commonwealth and in Ireland, his beloved second homeland. He made sizable, private gifts to schools, hospitals, environmental groups, universities, and to dozens of nonprofits dedicated to health and counseling, here and in Eire. Many nonprofit leaders relied on his vision and on his advice as much as his tangible support.
In the context of regional nonprofits, he was best known as a co-founder and long-time board member of Innisfree Village in Crozet Virginia, a co-living, therapeutic community for adults with intellectual disabilities, founded in 1971. Innisfree's unique mission, and the indefatigable kindness of its co-workers and volunteers held a special place in his heart.
He was a generous donor of the Richmond diocese, and he took the lead in expansion projects at his church, St Thomas Aquinas, in Charlottesville.
Known by his neighbors in County Kerry and Virginia to be a careful listener, a hospitable host, and a compassionate ally in hard times, many friends join his family in mourning the loss of this gentle man. He is dearly missed by his loving family, his wife of 62 years, Sheridan Winthrop Wood Nicholson, also his daughters Susanna and Bridget, his son-in-law law John Moore, and his granddaughter, Laura. In addition to his parents, Thomas was preceded in death by his brothers Stephen and John.
A funeral mass celebrating Tom's life and friendships will be held at 2 pm Saturday March 3, 2018 at St Thomas Aquinas. In lieu of flowers, contributions in Tom's honor may be made to any of the above-named charitable organizations.