Tom Villa, a staunch Democratic supporter who left an indelible mark on South St. Louis politics, has passed away.
Before retiring from public service in 2017, Villa was elected to several influential state and local offices — including a representative in the Missouri House of Representatives and chairman of the St. consult. He died on Friday night.
“Tom is a realist,” said St. Louis Revenue Commissioner Gregory FX Daly. “And he understands the art of politics — and what he can do and accomplish.”
Villa was born in 1945, the son of City Councilor Albert “Red” Villa, who served as 37 years on City Councilor’s Committee. Villa began his career as a high school counselor and teacher, but says politics plagued him at an early age In a 2015 episode politically.
“I grew up with sample ballots on the dinner table,” Villa said. “I grew up going to Harry Truman’s rallies at Union Station. It was just something I really loved.”
Hear Tom Villa’s 2016 Political Speech appearance
Villa spoke extensively about his life and career in the 2016 edition of the Political Speech podcast.
Villa’s first forays into politics came in the 1970s and 1980s, when he was elected to the Missouri House of Representatives. There, he rose from the Democratic leadership of the House of Representatives to Leader of the House of Representatives from 1980 to 1984.
“I could have served in the Missouri General Assembly for nothing,” Villa said in 2016. “It’s like a circus, except the tent isn’t soft. It’s the hard roof of the Capitol. But I really love it. I made a lot of great friends there, and the diversity in Missouri itself fascinates me.”
He ran for state treasurer in 1984 and narrowly lost to Republican Wendell Bailey. But he made his first political comeback three years later when he was elected to the important post of chairman of the St. Louis Councilors’ Committee.
After being re-elected to the position in 1991, Villa embarked on an unsuccessful campaign for mayor of St. Louis — to Freeman Bosley Jr. — and in 1995, Villa opted not to seek re-election as board chairman.
Daly said that Villa did not feel resentment because of the election loss, because he believed that the election result reflected the will of the people.
“His outlook on life was really good,” Daly said. “Whatever the outcome, he’s going to give it his all and hopefully he succeeds – he’s been very successful in a lot of things.”
Villa continued his career in electoral politics in the 21st century, winning another run for the Missouri House of Representatives in 2000. After nearly a decade, he returned to the St. Louis Councilors’ Committee in 2011 and was elected to the St. Louis Councilor. District 11.
During his last election to public office, Villa was known for his independence. He often voted against the then St. St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay’s big agenda items include an ambitious plan to revamp parts of northern St. Louis and an unsuccessful effort to build a riverside football stadium.
Jake Hummel succeeds Villa at Missouri House and is his next door neighbor. He said Villa was principled when it came to policy and politics.
“Tom doesn’t belong to any particular club or group,” Hummel said. “If he thinks it’s the wrong thing to do for the wrong reasons, you’re not going to change his mind.”
Hummel also said Villa was very keen to serve his constituents and would respond promptly to people when they had issues that required his attention.
“Tom wasn’t just a politician. He was a politician,” Hummel said. “Tom would spend the night in Jefferson City and return calls to anyone who had contacted him. Whether they wrote or emailed him, Tom would contact anyone he had spoken to.”
In addition to his political success, Daly noted that Villa has a great sense of humor, which allows him to connect with people. He bought countless colorful sports coats and quipped that he was able to outshine fashion because of a “lack of competition”.
Vera is survived by his wife, Karen. He is 77 years old.