Dr. Alvin I. Thomas, president-emeritus of Prairie View A&M University departed this earth on September 25, 2013. He was preceded in death by his parents, Clarence P. Thomas and Lillian Gilbert Thomas, a brother, Talmadge J. Thomas, and a sister Sr. Mary Francine (Nee Grace M. Thomas).
He was born on September 7, 1925 in New Orleans, Louisiana. He early education began in the New Orleans public schools and he later attended Xavier University of New Orleans. Dr. Thomas was drafted into the U.S. Army and was a veteran of World War II and the Korean Wars. His tours of duty included France, Belgium, Germany and the Philippines. Following his honorable discharge, he attended Kansas State College where he received the Bachelor and Master Degrees, and in 1957 he received his Doctor of Philosophy degree from Ohio State University.
Dr. Thomas, an educator/administrator, began his life-long and engaging career at Prairie View Agricultural and Mechanical College in 1949 as a faculty member. He later served as Director of the School of Industrial Education and then Dean of the College of Industrial Education and Technology. On November 22, 1966, Dr. Thomas was named the third president of the college, now Prairie View A&M University. He left the presidency in May 1982 and was named Executive Vice President for Development and served as the Director of Facilities for the Prairie View College of Nursing in the Texas Medical Center.
During his presidency he introduced the Yale residential college concept, created the 1970-1980 Master Plan, improved the curriculum and degree offerings, oversaw some $50 Million in construction, increased enrollment, established the first NROTC Unit at a historically black university and established the Centennial Endowment Fund, the university’s first capital campaign.
Dr. Thomas believed that the primary purpose of Prairie View A&M University was the creation of human capital with ethical and moral values, cultural literacy, professional and technical knowledge, skills and leadership characteristics to enable self-sufficiency, and to preserve and strengthen democracy and the free enterprise system. This philosophy led to the creation of numerous undergraduate and graduate degrees during his administration. The university’s enrollment increased more than 30%, and the number of graduates increased from 605 in 1966 to 1135 in 1982. He was especially proud of the establishment of the Navy ROTC Program, the only Navy ROTC unit at a historically black university. During his administration, the Prairie View Naval ROTC commissioned more African-American Naval Officers than any other university. Also, the number of Army ROTC officers commissioned rose from 25 per year to 100 per year. It was from this background in November 1973 that Dr. Thomas developed the slogan: “Prairie View Produces Productive People.”
Many innovative college and pre-college programs were established from 1966 to 1982. Among these were the Junior Fellow/Senior Fellow Residence Hall Programs, Student Honor Roll Banquet, the University Without Walls, the Weekend College for Adult Students, Experiment-in-Living, Engineering Concepts Institute, Minority Introductions to Engineering (MITE), Premedical Concepts Institute, Operation Success, Project Pride, Century II Book Review, and the Pride of Prairie View Club. Additionally, twenty-one new academic honor societies were established throughout the University, along with nine chapters of the national social fraternities and sororities of the National Pan Hellenic Council. In 1969, Prairie View A&M University purchased a franchise in the Miss Texas/Miss America Scholarship Pageant, the only historically black college to provide its young women with this opportunity. His personable approach to management led to the creation of the monthly faculty and staff recognition program.
Dr. Thomas’ community services include a consultant to Dow Chemical Company, Litton Industries, and Westinghouse Management Service; member of the White House Conference on Children and Youth, the Governor’s Commission on Rural Development, member of the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges and team-member of President George H.W. Bush’s delegation to observe the election in Namibia, South Africa. He was a leader in the incorporation of the City of Prairie View in 1969, the Prairie View-Bahamas Friendship Scholarship Program, creation of The Carver Institute, (an African American Think Tank) in 1990 and the Liberia-Cuttington Group, Inc. in 2008. He worked in Liberia, West Africa and helped to restructure the Booker T. Washington Technical Institute at Kakata, Liberia. In 1974 Dr. Thomas was appointed to the Board of Directors of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas (Houston Branch) and served as Chairman of the Board from 1977-1979.
By action of the Board of Regents, The Texas A&M University System, Dr. Thomas was given the permanent title of President-Emeritus in April 1983. In December 2002, in recognition of his services to Prairie View A&M University, the Board of Regents named the university administration building the Alvin I. Thomas Building.
Visitation for friends, former students and others is on Saturday, October 5, 2013, 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.; Rosary at 10:30 a.m. with Mass of Christian Burial at 11:00 a.m. at St. Mary of the Purification Catholic Church, 3006 Rosedale Street, Houston, Texas. Entombment will take place Monday, October 7, 2013, 11:00 a.m., All Saints Mausoleum, Metairie Cemetery, 5100 Pontchartrain Boulevard, New Orleans, Louisiana 70124.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests contributions be made to the Dr. Alvin I. Thomas Memorial Endowment at St. Mary of the Purification Montessori School, 3002 Rosedale, Houston, Texas 77004. Arrangements by McCoy V. Harrison Funeral Home 4918 Martin Luther King Blvd. Houston, TX 7702.
Dr. Thomas is survived by his loving and devoted wife Clarissa Gamble Thomas; his children Kenneth C., Michael D. (Lark McCarthy), Janet M. and Julie E. and their mother, Iris Butler Thomas; sister Joyce Thomas Mouton, brothers Henry James (Sadie), and Aldon A. (Barbara). Other relatives include a host of grandchildren, great grandchildren, nieces and nephews. His surviving extended family includes, Mary Bush Johnson, Rosie L. Matlock, Frederick V. Roberts and his church family at St. Mary of the Purification Catholic Church.
Condolences may be sent to: The Dr. Alvin I. Thomas Family, 2646 South Loop West, Suite 275, Houston, TX 77054.