Thomas Ford Houston
September 23, 1945 – August 6, 2019
Thomas (Tom) Ford Houston of Springfield, Virginia, passed away on Tuesday, August 6, due to complications from dementia. He was 73.
Tom found the fun in every situation, which made him the perfect companion for just about anything. Always the consummate gentleman, he was known for his sharp wit and contagious optimism. He was naturally curious and quietly dependable – just the kind of guy you want in your corner, on your team, in your family.
Tom was level-headed and calm when he needed to be, and he didn’t mince words when he wanted to make a point. He was always deliberate and thoughtful, and he cared deeply for those around him. He was a man of character.
Tom married the love of his life, Ginger, in 1973. They had two children, Kate and Jeff. He thought they were perfect in every way, and they were. The intensity of his pep talks for baseball games and swim meets was rivaled by the intensity of his pep talks for dance competitions and school writing assignments. Together more than 45 years, Tom and Ginger exemplified true love when things couldn’t have been any better and true love when things couldn’t have been any worse.
Tom was born on September 23, 1945, in Newton, Mississippi. His family moved two years later to Pascagoula, where he was raised. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Mississippi, where he majored in journalism and was the Executive Editor of The Daily Mississippian, the University’s daily newspaper. He loved Ole Miss, and he was unapologetically proud of his Mississippi roots.
Following college, Tom served for two years in the United States Army. After returning to Mississippi to begin his career, he moved to Washington, D.C., and served in the office of Congressman Trent Lott as Press Secretary.
From 1989 until February 1993, he served as Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs). He was twice honored by Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney with the Secretary of Defense Medal for Outstanding Public Service. While at the Pentagon, Tom served as Director of the Desert Shield/Desert Storm Public Affairs Cell, the round-the-clock clearinghouse for U.S. military information during the Persian Gulf buildup and war.
After elevating through the ranks during his time at the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission in the 1990s, he was named Chief of Staff to Congressman Jim Saxton of New Jersey. In 1996, Tom was named Chief of Staff to Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas.
After a career honing his public affairs expertise in the Pentagon and on the Hill, Tom was named Senior Advisor to the Director of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) in February 1998 and appointed Assistant Director for Communications in January 1999. In his time at NCIS, he oversaw the expansion of the Communications Directorate at NCIS and redirected its focus to proactive media and congressional engagement. One of his greatest accomplishments came in 2000 when Congress passed legislation granting NCIS Special Agents the authority to execute warrants and make arrests. The legislation was a landmark achievement for NCIS, which previously had to rely on partner law enforcement agencies to carry out these tasks.
Perhaps most notably, Tom’s strategic engagement of media outlets and Hollywood production studios resulted in high-profile stories about NCIS and a dramatic TV series featuring the agency, which continues to air today. Tom retired from NCIS in 2006.
Throughout his career, Tom’s natural talent for writing set him apart. He could twist a phrase to make you laugh, to make you think, to make you consider a new perspective. He had an insatiable appetite for information – he read the newspaper, front to back, every single day. In the end, it was the loss of these skills that was most cruel.
Tom leaves behind his wife, Virginia (Ginger) Rhinehart Houston; daughter, Kate Gatto and son-in-law Joey; son, Jeff; and grandchildren, Jack and Abby. He was preceded in death by his mother, Era Velma Gardner Houston, and father, Quillie Otis Houston.
A service to celebrate Tom’s life will be held on Tuesday, August 20 at 2 p.m. at Messiah Methodist Church, 6215 Rolling Road, Springfield, VA 22152. A reception will follow at Tom and Ginger’s home. Tom will be buried at Sweetwater Cemetery in Leakesville, Miss. on Saturday, August 24 at 10:30 a.m.
In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to Inova Blood Donation Services, the Alzheimer's Association which specializes in research on dementia, or Messiah Methodist Church, our family church in Springfield, Va.
No services are scheduled at this time. Receive a notification when services are updated.
Thomas Ford Houston
August 19, 2019
I worked for Tom in the Public and Legislative Affairs Directorate of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service Headquarters (NCISHQ). He taught me many valuable lessons while I was a legislative fellow on Capital Hill and later when I was a senior manager in the department. Tom was a master of negotiation and persuasion. He had vision and understood what was important. He used his skills for the common good as NCIS coordinated with legislators to enact legislation for arrest authority for our Special Agents. This was a major undertaking that had been in the works over 50 years. We could not have done this without Tom.
Later we worked side by side on Sep 11, 2001. Our small but mighty department worked tirelessly to set up an emergency Command Post for the Secretary of the Navy and the Chief of Naval Operations in the NCIS Director’s Conference room, while simultaneously documenting our organization’s response to the terrorist attack on the Pentagon. Some heroes wear capes. Others wear wire rimmed glasses.
I will never forget Tom’s complete devotion to his wife and children. Tom’s first order of business every workday was to give an update on the most recent baseball game, garden project or school event. Tom brought love, joy, and devotion to all that he did. I will is him. My heart goes out to his beautiful family. God bless.
August 12, 2019
I had the privilege of working with Tom in the U.S. House of Representatives. When dealing with a gaggle of aggressive reporters, Tom exercised remarkable patience and good humor. I send my heartfelt condolences to Ginger and the entire Houston family. Tom was an incredibly talented man. More importantly, his love for his family set a standard for everyone to emulate. Rest in peace Tom. Thank you for showing all who knew you a life well lived.
August 10, 2019
Our prayers go to Tom’s dear family. So sorry for your loss. He will be dearly missed by the class of 63PHS. Pascagoula Mississippi. God Bless each of you
Jean Rigney. Class of 63 PHS.