Lifestyle Obituaries

West Hartford Community Mourns Death of Earl Exum

Earl Exum. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

Long-time West Hartford resident Earl Exum died unexpectedly on Oct. 1, 2023, at age 55.

By Ronni Newton

Family and friends, and the entire West Hartford community, have lost a shining star with the passing of Earl Exum, 55, on Sunday, Oct. 1.

Exum, the husband of 19th District Democratic state Rep. Tammy Exum and the father to three sons, was a senior executive at Pratt and Whitney, president of WHAASCO (the West Hartford African American Social and Cultural Organization), member and former chairman of the board of West Hartford Community Interactive, a youth sports coach and scoutmaster, a leader at Asylum Hill Congregational Church, and the type of person who could always be called upon to assist – whether it was emceeing the town’s Memorial Day Parade or MLK celebration, organizing an event or fundraiser, or helping create a memorial to the first African American leader of a mainstream protestant church.

Earl Exum (left), president of WHAASCO, holds the Celebrate! West Hartford history book. On the right is the picture of Lemuel Haynes from page 4 of the book. Courtesy image (we-ha.com file photo)

Tammy, Evan, Kyle, and Jonathan Exum shared the following statement: “At a time of unmatched grief, we are comforted by the expressions of sympathy and by the loving embrace of this community. While Earl’s sudden passing has left us shocked, everywhere we turn the joy and devotion he had for his neighbors, colleagues and family is reflected back to us. And, though the loss will remain overwhelming for some time, the greatest tribute that can be paid to him – to any of us – is the loving embrace of each and every individual and the celebration of their unique gifts. Whether in marriage, parenting, friendship, mentoring, or serving that was Earl’s passion; may it always endure.”

“Everything is so inadequate to say about Earl,” West Hartford Mayor Shari Cantor said. “Our community has lost a treasure. He was the best of all of us. He was so smart, honest, giving, kind, funny, and a true leader that led by example. He was such a loving husband and father, brother and friend. He will be missed by so many because he gave so much. Our hearts are with his beautiful family. We are all so sad that life that his full life ended way too soon.”

Earl and Tammy Exum at the 18th Annual Mayor’s Charity Ball, May 13, 2017. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

“My heart is broken for Tammy and her family,” said state Sen. Derek Slap. “The shock may subside, but Earl’s impact will never fade. He had so many important roles in his life – business leader, fraternity brother, community leader, church leader, and of course the most important… husband, father, and brother. I was fortunate to get to know Earl through my friendship with Tammy and was so impressed with his kindness, intelligence, and commitment to his community – and his family. The loss is simply immeasurable. May we all hold the Exum family in our prayers and hearts during this difficult time.”

“There are no adequate words to describe Earl’s untimely unexpected passing from our realm, our everyday world of living. Life comes full circle,” said resident and WHAASCO member Gail Crockett. “His smile, laughter and, yes, that voice, are most immediately in my thoughts for comfort because that is what I will always hear and remember about Earl in conjunction with his tireless efforts to make the world a better place – even mannered temper, his politeness, respect towards others, and passionate dedication to his family, friends, colleagues, and commitment to living the ‘Golden Rule.’ He was a gem of a human being. A wonderful and shining example of what the world needs more.”

Jennifer Evans, executive director of West Hartford Community Interactive, shared the following on behalf of the organization: “We at WHCi are heartbroken to hear of the passing of Earl Exum. In the tapestry of our community, Earl was a masterful tailor weaving together the threads of inclusivity, diversity, and thoughtful dialogue. He was a long-time supporter, board member, advocate and friend. As president of the Board of Directors of West Hartford Community Television (2014-2016), an esteemed commentator of the Memorial Day Parade and host of enlightening forums, Earl Exum embodied the spirit of celebration and progress. Through his eloquent words and engaging conversations, he empowered our community to embrace its diversity and stand at the forefront of change. Earl’s unwavering commitment to fostering understanding, his genuine passion for amplifying voices and his remarkable ability to ignite thought-provoking discussions along with a willingness to roll-up his sleeves and get things done will forever resonate within our hearts. Today, as we bid farewell to a true champion of unity, let us honor Earl Exum’s legacy by continuing the journey he embarked upon – nurturing a community that thrives on diversity, inclusivity and the power of meaningful dialogue. Our thoughts and prayers are with Earl’s family and friends during this difficult time.”

On a personal note, Evans said Exum has been a friend for many years. She first met him when he coached her son’s team in West Hartford Youth Football, and he was also her son’s leader of Cub Scout Pack 144 at Whiting Lane School.

“Earl Exum was a dear friend and I am devastated to hear of his passing,” said resident John Lyons, who chairs the West Hartford Democratic Town Committee’s 7th District, where Exum served as vice chair. “I don’t think I’ve met anybody else who gave as much to their community as he did. As my vice chair, he was always there for me when I needed counsel or input on tough decisions. Lastly, he jumped at the chance to present my nomination speech at our recent political convention and it was an honor for me that I will always cherish.”

Town Historian Tracey Wilson said before she began a talk Tuesday night at the Noah Webster House about indigenous people in Wes Hartford, she paid tribute to Exum – but said as she spoke, “I just kept thinking he was going to just walk down the stairs at the NWH, as he so often did, and take a seat to learn some history and challenge the story that has been told.

“Earl Exum embodied what it means to be a community member – which is how I knew him,” said Wilson. “I went to so many meetings with him – WHCI, Martin Luther King Day Planning Committee, talking to WHAASCO, and working with him on the Lemuel Haynes Memorial. That monument really epitomizes Earl.  When he found out about Lemuel Haynes (1753-1833) he was incensed that nobody knew he was the first African American to be ordained a Congregational minister and there was no mention of him in West Hartford. He worked collaboratively with several community groups to raise the money for the small monument and bench that are now on the front lawn of the First Church. Earl didn’t just see the need, he carried out the task with such positive energy,” Wilson said.

“His are some big shoes to fill in our community today – and Earl has mentored so many people that it can happen. But it will take several of people to do what one individual – Earl – did for this community,” said Wilson.

“Earl Exum was a beautiful soul,” said Town Council member Carol Anderson Blanks. “An awesome husband, father, sibling, neighbor, friend, and community partner. He made it his mission to be involved. A bright light extinguished far too soon. My heart aches for my friend Tammy, their children, the entire extended family and the West Hartford community. Earl, I will truly miss you and your humor.”

Earl Exum. Courtesy photo (we-ha.com file photo)

Exum is originally from Queens, New York. He and Tammy married in 1995, and moved to West Hartford with their young family from Texas. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Cornell University, a master’s in management from Purdue University, an executive MBA in international business from NEOMA Business School in France, and a certificate of management in business strategy from the Darden School at the University of Virginia.

Exum was previously president of International Aero Engines AG (IAE), a multinational consortium comprised of shareholders including Raytheon Technologies’ business Pratt & Whitney, Pratt & Whitney Aero Engines International GmbH, Japanese Aero Engines Corporation and MTU Aero Engines. In June 2023 he was named chair of the IAE AG board of directors and also retained his role as vice president, Mature Commercial Engines at Pratt & Whitney.

In addition to his considerable West Hartford leadership roles, Exum was a long-time member of the executive committee of the Urban League of Greater Hartford.

Through WHAASO, Exum was involved in the planning of “WeHa United in Jazz” scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 8, in Blue Back Square. Other organizers have made the decision not to cancel or postpone the event, but rather to dedicate it to Exum.

Exum is survived by his wife, Tammy, his sons Evan, Kyle, and Jonathan, and many other family members and countless friends.

Calling hours will be on Saturday, Oct. 7, from 12:30-1:30 p.m. at Asylum Hill Congregational Church, 814 Asylum Avenue, Hartford, CT. The Celebration of Life Service will be held at 2 p.m. at the same location.

The Earl E. Exum Memorial Fund has been established through the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving. The donate page can be found here.

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