Thomas B. Silver, a scholar whose historical views guided his extensive work in local government and on behalf of a Claremont conservative think tank, died Dec. 26 at St. Jude's Hospital in Fullerton. He was 54.
Silver, a Fullerton resident, succumbed to an aggressive brain tumor that had been diagnosed only a few days earlier.
In a career that spanned academia and politics, Silver brought a penetrating intellect and a modest, even-tempered demeanor to his work, friends and colleagues said. He spent 16 years working for Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, ultimately as chief of staff, and was deeply involved in such issues as welfare reform and developing mass-transit alternatives.
"Tom was one of the most intellectual and down-to-earth individuals I have known," Antonovich said. "He was a Renaissance man. He was an author; he ran the marathon; he had an understanding of finance, theology, political philosophy; and he was able to bring people together and find solutions."
Silver also served as an instructor at Harvey Mudd College in Claremont in 1977, and as a consultant-panelist and outside reviewer for the National Endowment for the Humanities in the early 1980s.
He was the author of a book, "Coolidge and the Historians" (1982), which challenged the standard view of America's 30th president. Silver argued that Calvin Coolidge was a great American statesman who adhered to the essential principles of government laid out in the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution and stood firm against a rising liberal tide.
At the time of his death, Silver was working on a new book about the Progressive movement and what he saw as its corrosive effects on American politics and society.
But it was perhaps in his long association with the Claremont Institute, which he helped establish in 1979 and led as president for the past year and a half, that Silver most continually engaged with the issues dear to him. A center of passionate conservative scholarship, the institute supports research, writing, publishing and educational outreach on the moral and political principles embodied in the Declaration and the Constitution. With an annual budget of $4 million, the nonprofit institute has made itself a valued resource for conservative lawmakers in Sacramento and Washington.
Larry P. Arnn, Silver's predecessor as the institute's president, described Silver as "a quiet man, confident in his views, but capable of fierce argument with people, always civil."
In a Times story in March, Silver voiced the institute's mission. "We want to overthrow the reigning orthodoxy," he said, "and we want to, somewhere along the line, train a Franklin Roosevelt who will then overthrow the New Deal."
Born in Detroit and raised in Grand Rapids, Mich., Silver received his bachelor's degree in political science from Kalamazoo College. He studied at the Claremont Graduate School, where he earned a doctorate in government. He is survived by his wife, Nancy, and two sons, Arthur and Salvador Antonio.