Gormley, Thomas (‘Tom’) Columba (1912–84), businessman, farmer, and politician, was born 29 July 1912 in Carnanbane, Claudy, Co. Londonderry, third child among three sons and two daughters of Philip Gormley, businessman, of Carnanbane, and Mary Gormley (née Waters), seamstress, of Grange, Co. Sligo. He was educated at Kilgort primary school, Claudy, before pursuing farming and business interests near Ballinamallaght, Donemana, Co. Tyrone.
He first entered politics as a nationalist councillor in the 1950s, serving on both Strabane rural district council and Tyrone county council until their dissolution as part of the reform of local government in Northern Ireland in the early 1970s. At the Stormont general election of March 1958 he unsuccessfully contested the constituency of Mid Tyrone with the assistance of his brother, Paddy (qv), the sitting nationalist MP for Mid Derry. The events of this contest were in many ways a perfect illustration of the problems that always confronted the nationalist party in Northern Ireland. In particular, until the mid 1960s there was no party organisation as such, and delegates representing local groups and organisations met to choose electoral candidates at selection conventions. On occasions personal rivalry and disagreements over political strategy could not be settled at such gatherings, leading to a situation where two or more contenders battled to represent nationalist opinion. In Mid Tyrone in March 1958 this led to Tom Gormley standing as a ‘Farmers’ candidate against Francis McConnell, who stood as a nationalist. This led to a split in the vote, allowing a unionist to win what had been regarded as a traditional nationalist seat. By the time of the next general election in Northern Ireland, four years later (May 1962), Gormley was the sole nationalist candidate and as a result he gained a comfortable victory over his unionist opponent. Without any clear structure or organisation, individual nationalist MPs often pursued their own interests and only coordinated their activity at Stormont, where a leader emerged to give the party a figurehead of sorts. Thus Tom and his brother Paddy, while always advocating Irish unity, were prepared to set this aside to concentrate on more pressing economic and social concerns in the hope that a broad anti-unionist alliance could develop. Their calls for action on this front throughout the 1960s did not always a strike a chord with some of their party colleagues, who instead continued to advocate the primary importance of ending partition. On a personal level, a prime example of his own individualistic approach came in May 1967 when he became the first nationalist MP to accept an invitation to attend a royal garden party at Hillsborough Castle, a move criticised by some of his fellow MPs.
In spite of these differences Tom continued to stand and win elections for the nationalist party in 1965 and 1969. However, after the emergence of the civil rights movement, he began to distance himself from the party over its reluctance to play any part in the attempts to establish a united opposition party able to encompass all those campaigning against the unionist government. He was closely involved in these attempts, particularly in the months after the general election of February 1969, and took part in the temporary opposition alliance of eleven of thirteen MPs, which emerged out of close cooperation at Stormont to resist the Public Order (Amendment) Bill. Finally, just before the annual meeting of the nationalist party in late 1969 he announced his intention to resign and to sit as an independent MP.
On the formation of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (August 1970) he considered joining but chose to remain as an independent, believing that it was nothing more than an attempt to reform the nationalist party. As the situation within Northern Ireland continued to deteriorate, he grew more convinced that the only hope for progress was in encouraging protestants and catholics to work together for the good of both communities. In February 1972 this led him to join the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland, which was committed to a non-sectarian approach to politics by advocating power-sharing and maintaining the union as the wish of the clear majority of people in the north of Ireland. He served as an Alliance councillor on Strabane district council (1973–7) and unsuccessfully stood for the party in Mid Ulster in the Northern Ireland assembly elections in June 1973.
Retiring from politics in 1977, he continued to pursue his business and farming interests. After a period of ill health he died at his home Knockbrack House, Goshaden, Co. Londonderry, on 16 August 1984 and was survived by his wife, Gertrude (née McKeever; m. October 1940), and three daughters, Dorothy, Gertrude, and Jennifer.