By Jan Todd
John E. Thomas, who served as Appalachian State University’s chancellor from 1979–93, died Thursday, Sept. 2, at the age of 90.
“Words cannot adequately express the profound impact the passing of Dr. John Thomas has on the Appalachian Community,” said App State Chancellor Sheri Everts. “He was the embodiment of what it means to be a Mountaineer: kind, service-oriented and community-focused.
“His legacy of innovation — and his strong belief that teaching and research work hand in hand — will be upheld on our campus for centuries to come. He will forever occupy a special place in my heart and in the heart of our campus community.”
As a former chancellor, Thomas is remembered for recruiting a first-rate faculty — believing that strong, effective teaching should be supported by research and community service. John E. Thomas Hall on App State’s campus is named in his honor.
Under his leadership, App State:
- Established the university’s first doctoral program, in educational leadership.
- Formalized international exchange programs in a dozen countries including China, Russia, Mexico and Costa Rica.
- Introduced An Appalachian Summer Festival — an annual celebration of the performing and visual arts.
- Initiated the public transportation system now known as the AppalCART.
- Built AppalNet, originally an eight-channel campus cable system, and a campuswide audio, video and data system.
- Grew enrollment from 10,179 in 1979–80 to 12,092 in 1992–93.
Thomas joined the staff of App State in 1974 as vice chancellor for academic affairs. He held a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Kansas, and a Juris Doctor in law.
He served in the Navy ROTC at the University of Kansas and in the Marine Corps during the Korean War. Prior to coming to App State, Thomas worked seven years as an engineer at NASA and served as a faculty member at East Texas State University, now known as Texas A&M University-Commerce.
After retiring as chancellor in 1993, he returned in 1994 to teach for the next decade in the Department of Management in App State’s Walker College of Business.
Thomas is survived by his wife, Jan Thomas, and his children — Christa Cooper; Brandon Thomas ’92 ’98; and Dr. Scott Thomas ’96, who is a lecturer and lab manager at App State. Thomas was preceded in death by his son John L. Thomas.