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A longtime lawyer for the state of Wisconsin whose volunteer work involved literacy and libraries, Thomas Boykoff had unusual hobbies.

He wrote to dignitaries – presidents, popes, the King of Jordan, Fidel Castro – and collected response boxes in the form of cards, photos and letters. He was also a devotee of Millard Fillmore, the country’s 13th president, becoming a member of the self-deprecating “Fillmorons” fan club.

“My father had a penchant for the obscure, and he had a real dedication to fighting for the underdogs,” said Jules Boykoff, the eldest of his three children. “I think he viewed Millard Fillmore as this massively underrated president.”

Boykoff, 77, died of COVID-19 on December 28. He suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and prostate cancer that had spread, with the coronavirus dealing the final blow, his son said. Boykoff had lived since 2015 on the University Woods campus in Oakwood Village, where he died.

Boykoff grew up in New York City and came to Madison for college. Other than three years at the University of Michigan Law School, he never left.

Boykoff with the children, their spouses

Thomas Boykoff, third from left, in 2018 with, from left to right: daughter-in-law Monica Boykoff, son Max Boykoff, daughter Molly Boykoff, daughter-in-law Kaia Sand and son Jules Boykoff.


“It didn’t take long for him to realize that Madison was the place he wanted to spend his life,” said Jules Boykoff, 50, chairman of the political and government department at the University of the Pacific in Oregon.

Her father worked as a lawyer at the Wisconsin Legislative Council, the Department of Revenue, and the Department of Financial Institutions. He has served twice on the Wisconsin Tax Appeal Board.

“He believed deeply in government, in its necessity, in its power, in its responsibility,” said his son. “He was a deliberately two-party guy.”

Sherlock Holmes Fan

Thomas Boykoff was a member of the Madison-based Sherlock Holmes Society group “Notorious Canary Trainers” and was a member of the Jane Austen Society.


Thomas Boykoff, who also taught at UW-Madison Law School, was an audition examiner for Madison’s Rent Reduction Program, volunteered with the Literacy Network in Madison, and was active in Friends from Madison Public Library and Friends of Middleton Public Library.

He was a member of the Jane Austen Society and host of the Madison-based Sherlock Holmes Society group “Notorious Canary Trainers”.

He spoke some Swahili and “passable” Spanish, his son said. Even in his last days, his mind fading, he could recite Federico García Lorca’s poem, “Canción de Jinete”.

Letters from dignitaries

Thomas Boykoff, who wrote to dignitaries and held seminars on how to do it, collected six boxes of responses. They include letters from Fidel Castro and a representative of the Dalai Lama, as well as photos of former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and former First Lady Barbara Bush.


The family donated six boxes of letters and photos that Boykoff collected from world leaders to the First Unitarian Society of Madison, of which he was a member, for use as a public record.

Her other children are Max Boykoff, 47, director of the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado, and Molly Boykoff, 43, a special education teacher in the Portland, Oregon area. Their parents divorced in the 1990s.

“I feel really lucky to have had a father like him,” Jules Boykoff said.

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