Track and Field Hall of Fame member Frank Thomas has died at 87
NEW YORK – Former Columbia male basketball player and Athletics Hall of Fame member Frank Thomas, 56CC ’63LAW, has died aged 87. The Lions’ all-time, single-season rebound leader has had a remarkable career as president of the Ford Foundation, one of the world’s largest charities.
“Frank Thomas represented what the Columbia experience is,” said Campbell family director, Intercollegiate Athletics and Physical Education. Pierre Pilling. “In addition to his exceptional basketball career here, we are very proud of the barriers he has broken down professionally and all he has accomplished in the philanthropic world. Our deepest condolences go out to his friends and family. “
Born and raised in Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, Thomas turned down several offers for basketball scholarships to attend Columbia. At six-foot-four, Thomas played center and played for mid-1950s head coach Lou Rossini’s teams, cleaning glass like no other Lion has ever done. He ended his Columbia career as the record holder for single-season and career rebounds – marks that have lasted for over 60 years.
Thomas teamed up with the great Chet Forte in the 1955 and 1956 squads that directly preceded the start of the Ivy League. Thomas was captain of the 1956 team that posted a 15-9 record, winning the Raymond J. Fullerton Lions MVP this season.
Thomas was the first black student-athlete to captain an Ivy League basketball team and became involved with Columbia’s NAACP organization to help increase admissions of black students to the university.
After graduating from Columbia College in 1956, Thomas received a law degree from Columbia in 1963 after serving four years as a Navigator in the US Air Force.
Thomas continued to serve others after graduating from law school. From 1967 to 1977, he was President and CEO of the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation. In 1979, he was elected president of the Ford Foundation, where he increased the organization’s endowment to $ 7 billion when he resigned in 1996.
From 2001 to 2006, he was Chairman of the September 11 Fund, established by the New York City Community Trust and the United Way of New York City. The Fund has helped victims, their families and affected communities rebuild their lives following the September 11, 2001 attacks.
John Jay College honored him by establishing the Franklin A. Thomas Chair in Policing Fairness and was inducted into the Columbia University Athletics Hall of Fame in 2010.
Thomas is survived by his second wife, Kate Whitney; his sons, Kyle and Keith; his daughters, Kerrie Thomas-Armstrong and Hilary Thomas-Lakee; her stepchildren, Andrea Haddad, Lulie Haddad and Laura Whitney-Thomas; 16 grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.