Thomas James Gavin Jr., 68, architect and educator

Thomas James Gavin Jr., 68, of Powelton Village, an architect, human resources director, and educator, died of brain cancer Saturday, Dec. 10, at Penn Hospice at Rittenhouse.

Mr. Gavin joined the firm of Cauffman, Wilkinson & Pepper in 1982. His projects included St. Francis Country House in Darby Borough, the Chapel and Ministry Center for St. Joseph University, and several area hospital buildings.

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Thomas J. Gavin Jr.

In 1994, he became director of human resources for what is now Francis Cauffman Inc. He mentored young architects, encouraging them to earn their certification, and recruited African Americans and other minorities for the firm, his wife, Cara Crosby, said.

In recognition of his efforts, Mr. Gavin was presented with a Julian Francis Abele Award in 2002 from the Philadelphia Chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects. Abele, an African American architect, was one of the designers of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

For more than 20 years, Mr. Gavin volunteered his time to teach architecture to public school students. He was active with Architecture in Schools, sponsored by the Foundation for Architecture, and taught at Powel Elementary in Powelton Village, where his daughter was a student.

Teachers at Powel remembered how he set up a tent in a classroom, explaining that the spokes created the structure, his wife said. He had the children sit in the tent and experience being "within a space."

When his daughter enrolled in Masterman in the late 1980s, he volunteered there. He continued to teach architecture in an enrichment program at Masterman until he became ill last year, his wife said. He would have the students create a personal space with attention to sound, smell, and touch, she said. Outdoors, he led the students on tours of buildings, asking: "How does a building meet the ground? Meet the sky? Turn a corner? Welcome you in?"

Mr. Gavin grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., and was in the first graduating class of Xaverian High School in Brooklyn. He earned a bachelor's degree from Fordham University in 1965. During his junior year, at the Sorbonne in Paris, he learned to speak fluent French and became interested in architecture, visiting cathedrals.

From 1965 to 1967, he served in the Army in Germany.

After his discharge, he attended Pratt Institute in New York City and then earned a master's degree in architecture from the University of Pennsylvania in 1972.

He later conducted career seminars and lectures at Penn, including one in 2009 on the impact of the economy on architectural firms.

Before joining Francis Cauffman, Mr. Gavin was an associate with several architectural firms in Philadelphia.

An accomplished artist, he taught a course on drawing at Drexel University and sketched wherever he was, his wife said. In 1999, he drew a self-portrait every day, she said. Many of the self-portraits, as well as his watercolors and drawings, were included in a show friends organized in March at the Art on the Avenue Gallery in Powelton Village.

A committed Francophile, Mr. Gavin loved Proust's Remembrance of Things Past and read it in English and French. He and his wife visited Paris several times.

In addition to his wife of 34 years, Mr. Gavin is survived by a daughter, Anna; a son, Patrick; two brothers; and two sisters.

A Funeral Mass will be said by Mr. Gavin's brother Kenneth, a Jesuit priest, at 10 a.m. Friday, Dec. 16, at Old St. Joseph's Church, 321 Willings Alley. Burial will be in Arlington (Va.) National Cemetery.

Donations may be made to the Julian Abele Endowed Scholarship Fund, Attn: Richard P. Fitzgerald, University of Pennsylvania School of Design, 102 Meyerson Hall, 210 S. 34th St., Philadelphia 19104.

 


Contact staff writer Sally A. Downey at 215-854-2913 or sdowney@phillynews.com.