Former NC State chancellor Joab Thomas remembered for leadership

kreilly@newsobserver.comMarch 4, 2014 

— Those who worked with former N.C. State University Chancellor Joab Thomas remembered him Tuesday for his wise leadership and his passion for education.

Thomas, who served as chancellor from 1976 to 1981, died Monday at age 81.

A graduate of Harvard University, Thomas began his career in higher education as a biology professor at the University of Alabama. He became a world-renowned botanist and expert on agricultural research.

At N.C. State, he pioneered the establishment of the College of Veterinary Medicine and the Center for Economic and Business Studies. He also started the Caldwell Fellows scholarship program and furthered the development of liberal arts programs.

“As a mentor and friend to me and many others, Joab led by example with patience and wisdom and with an amazing intellect that was matched by his great sense of humor and love for his family,” said former NCSU trustee Tom Hendrickson, who was student body president during Thomas’ tenure as chancellor.

Thomas became chancellor after John Caldwell retired from the position in 1975.

“For anybody to follow in John Caldwell’s shoes, they had to be an exceptional person, and that’s who Joab Thomas was,” said Grover Gore, a former NCSU trustee.

Gore worked closely with Thomas to establish the veterinary school, which Gore called Thomas’ signature legacy at the university.

“He was a great person to work for. You didn’t feel like you were working for him; you were just working with him,” Gore said. “He is one of the great chancellors at N.C. State, even though his time was not as long.”

After leaving NCSU, Thomas served as president of the University of Alabama from 1981 to 1988 and president of Pennsylvania State University from 1990 to 1995.

He is survived by his wife, Marly Dukes; his four children; and 13 grandchildren.

A memorial service will be at 10 a.m. Thursday at Christ Episcopal Church in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

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