3/25/2009 - Marion native leaves bequest to her alma mater
By Michael J. Brooks
Judson College alumna Nancy White Thomas died in Richmond, Va. on Oct. 7 at age 103, leaving a major gift bequest to the alma mater she loved so much.
A native of Marion, Thomas earned a diploma in piano in 1923 and the bachelor of music in piano in 1924. She then began studies at the Presbyterian School of Christian Education in Richmond, now known as Union Theological Seminary and Presbyterian School of Christian Education, where she taught. Thomas did additional study at the University of Edinburgh and at the University of Berlin.
She was a member and active volunteer at the Covenant Presbyterian Church for more than 70 years.
A lover of church music, Thomas contributed many articles on church music and hymnody to denominational publications. She was on the editorial committee for "The Hymnal for Christian Worship." Her book on prayer, "On Bended Knee," was published in 1966 by John Knox Press, and her devotional booklet, "I Take, O Cross, Thy Shadow For My Abiding Place," was self-published in 1977.
Thomas endeared herself to the Richmond community as a volunteer with the police department. According to the "Richmond Times-Dispatch," Thomas taught public relations courses at the academy and helped found the police community relations department. She wrote notes of encouragement to every new police officer and to those who lost a relative or retired.
She also spent every Wednesday for one year as a volunteer in the city jail with a program called "Helpmates," later chronicling her experiences in a book, "A Year in Jail."
Her work in this program earned a commendation from President Richard Nixon.
Additionally Thomas was a member of the Junior League of Richmond, the Country Club of Virginia, The Woman's Club, The Hymn Society of America, the Alturas Club, the National Police Canine Association, the Police Benevolent Association and Friends of the Richmond Mounted Squad.
Thomas received the "Outstanding Alumnae" award from Judson in 1980 and a board of trustees resolution of appreciation on her 100th birthday in 2005. She also served on the college's board of advisors.
Thomas began giving to Judson in 1961 and made special donations to the college on her birthdays beginning in 1996. She called the gifts, "her best birthday presents."
"Nancy White Thomas loved her college and its people," said Judson president Dr. David Potts. "She was a source of prayer and encouragement to every president. She gave of her resources generously and faithfully. She was among this college's dearest and most devoted alumnae."
Thomas gave funds for the construction of the Thomas Choral and Recital Room in Tucker Hall, dedicated in 1990. She gave her collection of church music and hymnals and donated her extraordinary collection of porcelain Boehm Birds to the college. The collection is now displayed in the Dunkin Parlors of Jewett Hall.
The Thomas family also donated the Flentrop organ housed in the Ramsay- McCrummen Chapel where the Judson community worships weekly.
The Dutch manufacturer visited the chapel at Judson, took measurements, determined the piping and designed the organ to fit the space, according to music professor Dr. Betty Campbell.
"What we have is the 'Rolls Royce' of organs," Campbell said. "It was shipped through the port of Mobile and arrived the same day as Hurricane Frederick in September, 1979. We just knew we'd lost it, but miraculously, the organ was fine.
"The Dutch engineers came to campus and our students got to watch them assemble the organ over several days. We had a dedicatory recital and later a party on the organ's tenth birthday! It's a gorgeous, one-of-a-kind instrument."
Thomas's husband, Dr. John Newton Thomas, was professor emeritus of systematic theology at Union at the time of his death in 1997.
* Article courtesy of the Judson College Public Relations Department.