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Eastern mourns beloved professor and friend

On April 23, one of Eastern’s beloved business and communication professors, Bob Thomas, passed away.

The cause of his death was bilateral pulmonary emboli, according to his wife, English professor Nancy Thomas. His death was a shock to the campus, and as the people who loved Bob attempt to cope with this loss, we reflect on his life and his service to Eastern.

According to Nancy, he lived on campus from age three to fourteen, as his father was dean of students and athletic director. During that time, he was known for picking flowers on campus and selling them to students. He was always a salesman, Nancy said.

He returned to Eastern to get his MBA in business. He went from being an industrial salesman to a real estate broker, to owning his own real estate business and eventually joining Eastern’s staff in 1992.

“Bob had a gift of teaching that reached outside the classroom,” Jack Bower, the head of the business department, said. “He was able to inspire students who disliked academic work by getting them excited about business.”

Because of Bob’s commitment to the business program at Eastern, it has grown at a rate of 16 percent per year, Bower said.

Nancy described him as a storyteller, and that quality is what many students remember about his classes. Senior Doug Hackman said he always ended up smiling in every class.

According to communications professor Kevin Maness, Bob taught real-life experiences instead of theory.

“He came to subjects as a person who had done it, who had been in the trenches,” Maness said.

What Maness remembers most about Bob is “that home feeling that he carried with him wherever he went.” Bob was very down to earth and welcomed both students and faculty into his office as if it were his living room, according to Maness.

Many students found that they could turn to Bob for advice.

Sophomores Justin Tomevi and Ryan Ward attribute the building of their business, halfcollegebooks.com, to Bob.

“He was more than a professor or an adviser, [he was] a friend,” Ward said.

As their work for their business piled up, Tomevi remembers Bob saying, “If you really enjoy what you do, it won’t be considered work.”

Business professor Van Weigel said he knew Bob to be “always [showing] genuine care and compassion for people.”

One of the more recent memories that interim Dean of Arts and Sciences Betsy Morgan has of Bob is at her birthday party this past spring at English Department Chair Caroline Cherry’s house where Bob cooked for the party.

“He fed us; there is something so symbolic about that,” Morgan said.

Through the efforts of a number of people on Eastern’s campus, including Hackman and communications professor Talli Sperry, a movement is in motion to light up the waterwheel at night in Bob’s honor. Hackman remembers Bob discussing in his advertising class how he would like to see it lit up at night.

Bob was able to teach to his strengths at Eastern and completely be himself, Nancy said.

“He loved his family; he was a good husband and a good father,” she said.

Nancy said that it was a joy for her and Bob to see their two children, Rachel and Geoff, graduate from Eastern. As she put it, “Eastern has been our community.”

Business and economic development professor John Stapleford said, “If Bob were here today, I believe he would urge you to not do what is expedient and self-serving, but to respond to the call of God on your life and be an ambassador of reconciliation and love in whatever circumstances God places you.”

The main thing that Nancy remembers about Bob and the Eastern community is that he “felt fully accepted at Eastern’s campus … Eastern’s community made him feel whole.”

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