Thomas W. Wolfe, Treasury official, dies at 93


Thomas W. Wolfe supervised the dismantling of the U.S. gold-standard system in the 1970s dies at 93. (Family Photo)
November 17, 2012

Thomas W. Wolfe, who as a Treasury Department official managed the United States’ move off the gold standard and its economic consequences, died Nov. 5 at the Gardens at Fair Oaks assisted living facility in Fairfax County. He was 93.

He had liver failure, according to a nephew, Patrick Murray.

Mr. Wolfe worked at the Treasury during the Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon administrations and he faced the difficult task of managing the technical details of the U.S. decision not to offer to exchange dollars for gold at a fixed exchange rate. By the time President Richard M. Nixon broke the gold peg in 1971, it had become untenable as the United States faced potential demands for gold beyond its capacity to fulfill.

It fell to Mr. Wolfe, the deputy undersecretary at the Treasury who directed gold and silver operations, to figure out many of the details, carrying out the directions of Treasury Secretary John Connally and Paul Volcker, who was then the undersecretary for monetary affairs and who would later chair the Federal Reserve.

Mr. Wolfe led the government’s efforts to sell off much of its gold and silver holdings in a manner that maximized the return on the sales. It was a particular challenge because the U.S. government was dumping such large supplies onto markets that could have collapsed prices to taxpayers’ detriment, if not handled properly.

A New York Times article in 1970 described Mr. Wolfe as “particularly cheerful” as he pointed out that selling off government silver had actually earned a profit for taxpayers.

“To calculate what we earned since 1776 would take the world’s best accountant and three computers the rest of the year,” he told the Times.

After leaving the government in 1974, Mr. Wolfe became a private consultant advising firms and governments on economic and currency matters. He wrote WolfeWire, a newsletter about the precious metals market, from offices at the National Press Club building. He often traveled to the world’s financial centers, especially in Switzerland.

Thomas Walker Wolfe was born May 5, 1919, in Boston. As a child, he traveled around the country to state fairs with his father, who operated a sideshow called the “Monkey Speedway,” in which monkeys raced one another in vehicles.

Mr. Wolfe played football and baseball in his youth and rooted for the Boston Braves instead of the Red Sox, Murray said, because the Braves’ games were easier to sneak into.

Among his early jobs, Mr. Wolfe was a delivery truck driver and a door-to-door Coca-Cola salesman. During World War II, he served in the Army Air Forces in Africa and Italy.

Mr. Wolfe studied economics at Columbia University under the G.I. Bill and received joint bachelor’s and master’s degrees in 1949. He worked at the State Department before moving to the Treasury.

He was a longtime resident of Kensington, where he was a member of Holy Redeemer Catholic Church. He was also an avid student of the Civil War and a member of the Civil War Trust. His grandfather was a Union soldier who was held as a prisoner of war.

Mr. Wolfe’s first wife, Patricia Howley Wolfe, died in 1988 after a 37-year marriage. Their daughter, Eileen Wolfe, died in 2000.

His second wife, Maureen Moffat Wolfe, died in October after 20 years of marriage.

Survivors include a son from his first marriage, Brendan Wolfe of Mechanicsville.

Mr. Wolfe exercised daily and swam in the Atlantic while at an Ocean City vacation home when he was 92.

Matt Schudel contributed to this report.