Thomas Hickey Sr., 61, a passionate advocate for animals and the underserved, died of a stroke on Sunday at Jefferson Hospital.

Hickey, who had recently moved to Center City from Chester County, is best known for his work on legislation to improve conditions in Pennsylvania puppy mills.

"The canines of Pennsylvania have every reason to be sad today," said former Gov. Ed Rendell, who appointed Hickey to the state's Dog Law Advisory Board in 2006. "They lost a great, great champion."

The bill, praised as one of the most stringent in the country, banned commercial breeding facilities from using stacking cages and rabbit hutches, wire flooring, and non-professional euthanasia methods.

"He understood how to activate public pressure to improve laws and to force elected officials to enforce those laws," said Marsha Perelman, who served with Hickey on the Dog Law Advisory Board and the board of the Chester County SPCA. Hickey was smart, funny and strategic in how he approached his work, she said.

Hickey was born in Philadelphia but grew up in Delaware County, said his son Tom Hickey Jr.

At 13, after his father was killed in an accident, Hickey Sr. went to work to help support his family. He worked a midnight shift through high school to help pay for both essentials and extras, such as a prom dress for his sister, said Hickey Jr.

In 2003, Gov. Rendell appointed Hickey as chairman of the Delaware County Board of Assistance for the Department of Public Welfare.

"In that role - like everything else - he was so incredibly determined to use the opportunities he had been given to help people," said Hickey Jr. He recalled how his father would come home late or spend Saturday mornings at the department's office in Chester meeting with people who relied on government assistance.

"If they were not getting benefits, he wanted to know why," his son said.

Sharon Hickey, who died in January at age 59 of cancer, shared her husband's love of animals, said Kimberly Cary, their daughter.

"We always rescued our dogs," said Cary.

Her parents, who both went to Holy Cross Elementary School in Springfield, Delaware County, and then Cardinal O'Hara High School, met as teenagers, Cary said.

"They were together ever since," Cary said.

Hickey helped start a rescue called Dogshome and also founded DOGPAC, a political action committee focused on promoting laws to protect animals.

He attended Delaware County Community College, and took classes in business management at Villanova University and The Wharton School.

Hickey Sr. worked for The Vanguard Group for 18 years and retired in 2014 as a senior manager. Prior to his employment at Vanguard, Hickey Sr. worked for the Reliance Standard Life Insurance Company in Philadelphia; Fidelity Mutual Life Insurance Co. in Radnor; and the Philadelphia Life Insurance Company in Philadelphia.

Those who knew Hickey as an activist said he was fearless in taking on police, local officials, and politicians of either party.

"Once he got on an issue he wasn't going to let go until he succeeded," said Bryan Lentz, a former Democratic state legislator.

Republican Mario Civera, chairman of the Delaware County Council and a former state legislator,said Hickey got the Pennsylvania House to stay in session an extra day to approve the "puppy mill" bill.

In addition to his two children, Hickey is survived by his mother Mary Malin; sister Celle Hickey, Rosemary Thomas; and brother Dan Hickey.

Visitation is planned for Thursday at 9 a.m. followed by a service at 11 a.m. at the D'Anjolell Memorial Home, on 2811 West Chester Pike in Broomall.

Donations can be made to the Saved Me Animal Rescue, 860-862 N. 3rd Street, Philadelphia, PA 19123.

215-854-4908

@MariSchaefer