- Associated Press - Monday, March 3, 2014

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) - Joab Thomas, who served as president of the University of Alabama for seven years in the 1980s, died Monday at age 81, officials said

As president, Thomas helped triple research funding, raise admissions and curriculum standards and build economic development initiatives, University of Alabama officials said in a statement. His cause of death was unclear Monday evening.

“Dr. Thomas had a pivotal impact on The University of Alabama at a critical time in our history,” University of Alabama President Judy Bonner said in a statement. “His commitment to enhancing academic excellence, supporting and encouraging faculty research, and promoting economic development efforts in West Alabama and throughout the state launched the University on a path that we continue to follow in many ways today.”

University of Alabama System Chancellor Robert Witt said Thomas was at the forefront of higher education.

Before becoming president at Alabama, Thomas was an assistant professor in the biology department, assistant dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, dean of student development and vice president for student affairs. Thomas left for North Carolina in 1976 and returned to serve as UA president in 1981.

Thomas, of Tuscaloosa, also served as president of Pennsylvania State University and as chancellor of North Carolina State University. Officials at those universities praised Thomas’ dedication to students and faculty.

“As Chancellor at NC State, Joab Thomas left an indelible mark on the university,” North Carolina State University Chancellor Randy Woodson said in a statement. “His steady leadership, for example, led to the creation of NC State’s College of Veterinary Medicine, which has grown into one of the top such schools in the nation.”

Penn State President Rodney Erickson called Thomas a brilliant scholar, a visionary leader and a true gentleman. After resigning as UA president in 1988, Thomas worked as a faculty member for two years at Penn State before becoming president there.

“During Joab’s tenure as president of Penn State, he led the effort to strengthen undergraduate education; he initiated the largest building program in the University’s history; and his focus on fiscal responsibility resulted in more efficient resource allocation, as well as enhanced philanthropy and corporate partnerships,” Erickson said in a statement.

A memorial service is scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday at Christ Episcopal Church in Tuscaloosa. University of Alabama officials say memorial gifts may be made to the Joab Thomas Scholarship at The University of Alabama, the Joab and Marly Thomas Graduate Fellowship at The Pennsylvania State University, or to The North Carolina State University Foundation.

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