Longtime public servant, CIA man, Creath Tooley dies at 95


Creath Tooley in his “heirloom” hat. The hat-maker Rich Rand, so the story goes, once saw Tooley wearing the hat and offered him $1,000 for it. Tooley said he wouldn’t sell it for $10,000.

Editor’s note: Although Last Best News does not generally carry obituaries, we will when the individual was widely enough known or lived a life sufficiently crowded with adventure or public service. We believe Creath Tooley was one of those people.

Creath Athol Tooley, a Cold Warrior who worked for peace in his mature years, was born in Jordan, Mont., on April 6, 1921, to Dr. Laurence Henderson Tooley and Oda Leah (Owen) Tooley. He died April 18, 2016.

In 1923, his family moved to Red Lodge and Creath grew up hiking, fishing, skiing and creating adventures with his buddies.

He graduated from Carbon County High School in 1938 and joined Montana National Guard’s legendary 163rd Infantry Regiment while attending Montana State College (Kappa Sigma) in Bozeman. The 163rd was mobilized in October of 1940 in anticipation of World War II and thus Creath began a distinguished career in military and federal service. Discharged in 1946, Capt. Tooley held commissions in Military Intelligence and Signal Corps. He continued as a reserve officer, serving in the Army Security Agency.

Creath married Catherine Wainman of Evansville, Ind., on Oct. 9, 1943. From Washington, D.C. to Seattle to the Middle East to the Far East, they enjoyed their life together and provided secure and loving homes for their children.

After World War II, Creath was serving as district intelligence officer for the 13th Naval District HQ in Seattle when he was recruited by a new agency in Washington, D.C.

Joseph Stalin of the Soviet Union and Mao Tse Tung of China, who caused the deaths of tens of millions of their own citizens, were ruthlessly advancing Communism in 1949, the year Creath joined the fledgling Central Intelligence Agency. Made up of patriotic Americans with diverse backgrounds, Creath’s cadre served around the world, inventing the agency as they went along.

In the 1950s, Creath was detailed to the U.S. Department of State and assigned to the British colony (now Republic) of Cyprus. His three-year tour in the Middle East and another one in the Far East alternated with stateside duty in Washington.

Creath traveled to Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Afghanistan, India, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea, Japan and many other locations in Europe, Africa, and Asia via Ford Trimotor aircraft, rickshaw and countless other conveyances, establishing networks and conducting operations to counter the spread of Communism and protect the security of the United States. He was promoted to increasingly responsible positions, heading up his own division before leaving the CIA. He stayed in touch with his old agency pals until they all died, Creath being the last to go.

In January of 1962 Creath was recruited by Carey Brewer to work in the Kennedy administration. Nine months later, during the Cuban missile crisis in October, Creath was ordered to Seattle to take charge as director of Region 8 of the President’s Office of Emergency Planning (OEP), a precursor agency to FEMA. He spent the final 10 years of his federal career as OEP regional director for the Northwest United States.

He directed all federal relief for the 1964 Good Friday earthquake in Alaska, the Sun River floods in Montana, and other disasters in Montana, Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Alaska. He became known for his emergency management expertise and was called to assist in other regions, including the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Camille.

Creath administered President Nixon’s 1971 Wage Price Freeze in the Northwest, served as chair of the Seattle Federal Executive Board, and built the regional Federal Executive Reserve program, recruiting corporate executives willing to serve temporarily as government executives in the event of a disaster. Creath was cited for outstanding performance with multiple recognitions, including the Distinguished Service Award.


A dapper young Creath Tooley in the early 1950s, when he was working for the CIA.

After retiring from federal service, Creath returned to Montana. He served 10 years as Yellowstone County assessor and retired for the last time in 1985. Embracing their new leisure with gusto, Creath and Cathy enjoyed travels abroad and throughout the United States.

Creath had a beautiful voice and shared his talent, singing as a soloist and as a member of musical groups, including church choirs, barbershop quartets and Shrine Chanters. For decades, he sang with the Italian folk singers at the Festival of Nations in Red Lodge. Creath also had a knack for storytelling and he could have his audiences in knee-slapping hilarity or groaning in ironic pain.

Creath was a devoted, romantic husband and a loving, generous father who volunteered with Boy Scouts and 4H. He was a lifelong Democrat who proudly displayed a signed picture of Franklin D. Roosevelt in his home. His grandfather, William Owen, was a lay minister of the Christian Church in the early days of Montana and Creath was an active member of Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) congregations in Virginia, Maryland, Washington and Montana. In the 1950s, he helped organize an American Sunday school in Cyprus, which he served as superintendent.

Creath was a member of Masonic organizations and Al Bedoo Shrine Temple. He served as president of the Montana Assessors Association, Campfire Inc. and Billings Kiwanis Club. He was a lieutenant governor in Kiwanis and served on the boards of the Institute for Peace Studies and the Montana Rescue Mission. Creath was appointed by Gov. Ted Schwinden to the Federal Executive Reserve and was a consultant for Church World Service and the U. S. Office of Emergency Preparedness. He volunteered for countless worthy projects and his generous contributions to charitable organizations reflected his sense of obligation to share, which he did cheerfully.

Creath was crushed by Cathy’s death in 1992. In 1994 he met Mildred Morin, who restored his love of life, and they married after a six-week courtship. Their joy in being together never faded and Creath embraced Mildred’s family, treating her children and grandchildren as his own.

Creath showered his love on family, friends and those in need. He grieved for his sisters Mary, Leah and Sue, and his older brother and hero, Larry, as they passed on. He was also preceded in death by his parents, his son, Creath Tooley Jr. (Buddy), his daughter-in-law Valerie Tooley, his son-in-law Warren Shepard, his timeless bride Cathy and his loving wife Mildred.

He is survived by a son, Chuck (Joanie) Tooley, and granddaughters Marni (Jim) Edmiston and Paige (Tony) Chytka; a daughter, Sue Tooley and her children Catherine Shepard and Creath Shepard; stepdaughter Patty (Scott) Harcharik and their children Sean, Robbie and Amy; stepson Mike (Laurie) Morin and their daughter Melissa (Philip), and several well-loved nieces and nephews.

Creath’s courtesy and consideration for others continued until the end of his life. He would unfailingly rise or open a door for a lady, pay attention to the needs of children, and when duty called he would take for himself the most onerous task.

Creath repeatedly remarked how fortunate he was to have lived the life that he had. He enjoyed an exciting and successful career, traveled widely, shared tons of love and fun with family and friends, and enjoyed many years of retirement in his beloved Montana. Creath was honored to have served in the administration of President Kennedy, who urged Americans to give their best and who spoke these words at his inauguration in 1961:

Let the public service be a proud and lively career. And let every man and woman who works in any area of our national government, in any branch, at any level, be able to say with pride and with honor in future years: “I served the United States government in that hour of our nation’s need.”

Services at Central Christian Church in Billings, where Creath was Elder Emeritus. Memorials to Alzheimer’s Association or a charity of choice.

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